The inaugural Armenian Film Festival — put on by the Armenian Film Society, a Glendale-based nonprofit that shines a spotlight on Armenian films and filmmakers — began on Wednesday and will run through Sunday as a way to promote and empower Armenian films.
The film festival will close at the Alex Theatre on Sunday at 5 p.m. with a 15th anniversary screening of director Sev Ohanian’s “My Big Fat Armenian Family.” Afterward, audience members will hear an in-depth career retrospective discussion with Ohanian, a Hoover High School alum, who is also known for co-writing and producing the films “Searching” and “Run.”
Longtime Glendale resident Armen Karaoghlanian, co-founder of AFS alongside his wife, Mary Karaoghlanian, said this festival has been something on the society’s radar for years now. With a collection of films personally sought out by AFS or selected through a submission process, Karaoghlanian said all films have an Armenian connection through theme, characters or storylines.
“The films were made for a global audience, not just an Armenian audience,” Karaoghlanian told the News-Press. “So, my hope for the festival is that someone will come out because they’re interested in what an Armenian film or what an Armenian story is like, and they walk away realizing that Armenian filmmakers are incredibly talented.”
The opening night of the festival took place at the Alex Theatre on Wednesday and included a red carpet premiere of “Amerikatsi,” directed by and starring Michael Goorjian. On Friday, the festival showcased a series of select shorts including “Carnivore,” “Animus,” “Ararat” and “From the Work of the Devil” at the Laemmle Glendale.
Michael Aloyan, director and writer of “Carnivore,” said the film is “a collection of moments and memories.” Personal to Aloyan, who was born and raised in Glendale, “Carnivore” explores the experiences of Armenian American families in a coming-of-age short set in Glendale.
The short emphasizes the impact of the choices people make on their identity and “forces [characters] to confront these age-old traditions of manhood and ideas that are passed down.”
While “Carnivore” was well received in the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival in Armenia in July, Aloyan admitted he was a bit nervous to showcase the film in Glendale.
“I’m curious to see how [Glendale residents] are going to feel about it, how they’re going to feel about being portrayed in certain ways,” he said ahead of the screening. “I think everybody knows at least one person in this movie; whether it’s their cousin or their uncle, they’re all relatable if you grew up in this community.”
With the establishment of Armenian cinema in 1923, Karaoghlanian was eager to put out the first Armenian Film Festival in 2023 to celebrate a century of Armenian cinema.
“We feel like we’re now ushering in the next chapter, the next 100 years of Armenian cinema,” he said.
On Saturday, the festival will host a discussion and book signing with Howard Kazanjian for his work, “Howard Kazanjian: A Producer’s Life” at 11 a.m. at Hero House, located at 326 Mira Loma Ave. Kazanjian is an Armenian American film producer whose credits include “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones,” and his novel chronicles his experience rising in Hollywood.
In the afternoon, another series of shorts will be screened at Laemmle Glendale, including “Cycles,” “No Thanks,” “Anahide” and “Nowhere” at 4 p.m. Then at 6 p.m., the shorts “250km,” “It Takes a Village …” and “Echoes of Kef Time” will also be showcased.
On Sunday, two of AFS’s projects, “Back to Ashtarak,” a short documentary, and “The Peace of All,” a feature documentary about Artsakh, will play at 11 a.m. at the Laemmle Glendale.
Filmed in 2021 in Armenia, “Back to Ashtarak” is about film director Tigran Nersisian’s connection to his hometown of Ashtarak. Nersisian, who sees himself as multicultural, was born in Ashtarak before moving to Russia at age 5. Once he decided he wanted to pursue filmmaking, Nersisian and his family moved to Glendale so he could study at UCLA.
While the documentary is about himself, Nersisian said his hope is that the film resonates with audiences and connects them to their own hometowns. Based on the film’s screenings thus far, this has often been the case.
“After the screenings, people would come to me and tell me that the film transported them to their childhoods and that’s the best reaction I can get because that’s really what I wanted to achieve,” Nersisian told the News-Press. “I wanted the viewer to at some point disconnect from me and my story and find their stories within that short film.”
Nersisian said Armenian filmmakers in the area are “lucky” to have the opportunity to be a part of the Armenian Film Society and the events they put on. While the organization started off small in 2015 by hosting one event each month, it has grown over the years through partnerships with nonprofits and local theaters. Karaoghlanian said they have put on dozens of events this year alone.
“[The Armenian Film Society] is a connecting hub for us,” Nersisian said. “That’s where we meet other filmmakers, that’s where we network, that’s how we communicate. And I’m really grateful to Armen and Mary for everything they’re doing.”
Karaoghlanian is happy with the festival’s lineup and is thrilled to be hosting it in Glendale.
“I always refer to Glendale as the best place on earth. It’s truly the city where I feel most at home,” he said. “We’re hopeful that people come to this festival and better understand who we are and better understand our culture … but also we just want people to come out, celebrate movies and have fun.”
First published in the September 9 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.