Golden Apricot International Film Festival: beyond borders
This year’s Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival in Armenia was a very special occasion for me. Not only were the two films I produced, “Kusursuzlar” (The Impeccables) and “Ziazan,” having their Armenian premieres, but I also had the honor of being part of the jury of the Armenian Turkish Cinema Platform (ATCP). The ATCP is organized under the umbrella of the cooperation between Turkey’s Anadolu Kültür nongovernmental organization and the Golden Apricot Film Festival, which marked its 11th anniversary between July 13 and 20. The ATCP’s aim is to establish a common network through which filmmakers from both countries can cooperate and produce films together. The ATCP gathers twice a year, once in İstanbul and once in Yerevan, to award production grants to documentaries and short films that are to be made by Armenian and Turkish filmmakers and have the potential to become co-productions between the two countries.
At a time when the two countries do not enjoy diplomatic relations, the ATCP is one of the most important steps in normalizing the relationships between the people of these two countries and to begin a constructive cross-border dialogue. It isn’t at all surprising that this initial step has been taken by culture organizations, for it is always individuals from this sector who have an open mind and are willing to take risks for positive transformation. Thus it is especially important to point out the determination and efforts of Ms. Melek Ulagay and Ms. Susannah Harutyunyan, who have proven how cinema can be a means for mutual understanding.
“Ziazan,” directed by Derya Durmaz, was a one of the short film projects supported by the ATCP and which I had the chance to join as a co-producer. The making of the film was one of the most enriching and educating experiences I’ve ever had. We were a mixed Armenian and Turkish crew and we gathered to shoot the story of a 4-year-old Armenian girl who was trying to cross the Armenian-Turkish border in order to reach her favorite chocolate. Our bilateral collaboration with filmmakers Arevik Avenesyan, Hasmik Hovhannisyan and Aram Xachatryan was such a fruitful endeavor that the film went on to win several prizes as a short film and through its extensive press coverage emphasized how a child’s innocent outlook on life and human relationships proved the futility and absurdity of politics. The film’s optimism became a glimmer of hope for a future of peace and mutual recognition.
Thus when we got together to examine the 10 projects that were in the ATCP selection this year, I cannot emphasize enough how excited I was when I saw the quality and potential of all the projects. They all had different subject matter but were all focused on themes of reconciliation and recognition of the past in order to build a brighter and shared future. Several projects that originated from Turkey all had a common point of view in underlining the enrichment and influence of Armenian culture that was lost in Turkey after 1915. Several of the projects originating from Armenia were focused on rediscovering one’s roots in Anatolia with the companionship of a Turkish protagonist.
We awarded the main prize to Sevda Usanoglu’s short film project “A Blurry Pastel Painting,” which is an ambitious cinematic inquiry into the concept of ethnic identity and collective memory, linking the past to the present. The “special mention” title was granted to Mesut Yaşar Tufan and Ara Shirinian’s documentary project “On The Steps of Tchouhadjian,” a documentary project discovering the life and music of Armenian composer Tchouhadjian with the aim of presenting the forgotten treasures of Turkish and Armenian common cultural history.
Our three-day workshop during the festival reminded me of the importance of discussion and exchange, not only through the festival’s ATCP sidebar but by the festival’s initiative in showing Turkish films to the Armenian audience, such as “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia,” “Araf” and “I’m Not Him,” among others. At this point there is nothing to say but long live cinema and its power to bring people together and overcome barriers — something we can sometimes forget amidst the kafuffle of the industry.