Karen Avetisyan • Artistic Director, Golden Apricot International Film Festival
“The process of building a new Armenian cinema is a long one and is still in the fermentation stage”
– Returning to its original dates in July, the major Armenian film event focuses on regional cinema, as confirmed by its artistic director
After being affected by the pandemic and the Nagorno-Karabakh war of 2020, the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (which runs from July 10 to 17) is getting back into shape for its 19e edition with an excellent international program, a stronger focus on regional competition and exciting programming in its GAIFF Pro sidebar. Karen Avetisian looks back on this year’s achievements and shares his thoughts on the slow process of building the new Armenian cinema, as well as the call for a boycott of Russian films.
Cineuropa: The festival has been hit hard by the pandemic and recent conflicts, and festival dates have been disrupted. Considering this, as well as the fact that you had less than a year to prepare for the 2022 edition, did you manage to restore it to its original form?
Karen Avetisian: In 2020, the festival was held alongside the Artsakh War, which was somewhat of a small victory. If war as a phenomenon itself is a defeat, culture is surely capable of victories, especially in cases where the goals of those victories were to defend the culture. So I think the 2020 edition was the smallest but the most existential. In 2021, in post-war and pandemic conditions, we were able to present a full program, welcoming filmmakers such as Paul Schrader, Nadav Lapidand Kornel Mundruczoas this year we want to finally try to fly away, even though the evil of war never seems to end, only to migrate from one region to another.
We are cordially ready to welcome an exciting edition, shared with various artists such as the legendary Costa Gavraswhose Z (1969) must be regarded today as nothing but the prophecy of the oracle. We will also welcome the brilliant experimenter Albert Serrathe multi-regional master of political conflicts Terry Georgethe anthropologist of homo-Soviet Ilya Khrzhanovskyand Philip Bober who is a producer but I also consciously call him a great artist. He will present triangle of sadness [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile] less than two months after winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, while Costa-Gavras will be our Guest of Honor a month before he receives a lifetime achievement award at Locarno on the occasion of its 90e birthday.
Last year, no Armenian feature films were on the program. What was the reason and what is the situation today?
In 2021, we were negotiating with some Armenian feature films to be part of the regional competition. There were films that refused and even took offense to it, thinking that the program was of secondary importance, whereas we consider it similar to the Un Certain Regard sections of Cannes or Proxima of Karlovy Vary. But we probably failed to give this program the cohesive and deserved focus it needed at the time. This year we’re beefing it up even more, trying to prove to ourselves and the filmmakers that it’s paramount to us and can really go a long way.
We strive to have a regional orientation at least as much as international, if not more. One of the common problems with many ‘second tier’ festivals is the unjustifiable ambition to be labeled as ‘international’, but in fact a regional focus can bring bigger dividends and deeper insights. Moreover, being regional does not preclude being international.
However, the filter for Armenian feature films is more demanding than for shorts. We try to promote them but not at the expense of quality. So, this year, we are happy to have three feature films, including two in regional competition and one in international competition. 5 dreamers and a horse [+see also:
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film profile] joined the program after Visions du Réel, HotDocs and Wiesbaden; Aurora sunrise [+see also:
film profile] after Annecy, but that doesn’t bother us because we all have a common goal: the international recognition of Armenian films.
On the other hand, the Armenian short films in the Apricot Stone competition were of high quality in 2021, so I have high expectations for this year as well. Could you provide details on your selection criteria, as well as your general impressions of the rising generation of Armenian cinema?
For Armenian short films, we do not consciously set a very high, insurmountable bar, believing that short cinema accepts a certain tolerance, backlash or space for encouragement. I’m not sure this year’s selection is much stronger than the previous one. In fact, we envision this evolution within several years. This year’s selection clearly proves that the process of building the new Armenian cinema is a long one and it is still in a fermentation phase. Creating a new movement or a new cinematic style is a complex process that depends on various factors, and having only “good films” is only one of these factors. We are now at the stage where we have good films, but there is not yet a recognizable trend in our national cinema. I hope we are at least on the right track.
Does the GAIFF Pro industry sidebar help with the process?
Certainly, because it manages essential industrial and educational functions in parallel. In order to develop the educational block, we also plan to launch an international school, which will be based on the concept of the Moscow School of New Cinema founded by the brilliant Georgian mentor and filmmaker Dmitry Mamuliya. Their best graduation films have repeatedly appeared in international festival programs. As he says, each country has its own “cinema demons”, whose research shapes and creates a new cinema.
What do you think of the call for a boycott of Russian cinema? Is the festival policy in line with the trend?
The trend has become so radical that we don’t want to be part of it. We believe that a total cancel culture means ignoring the obvious lessons of history, as well as burning Leon FeuchtwangerWhere Henry Mannthe books with our own hands. Absolutely the same thing, just in a different period and historical-political context.
In a few days we will show a film with the title Zas well as Russian productions EAD. Degeneration [+see also:
film profile], Captain Volkonogov escaped [+see also:
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film profile], which could be considered unethical actions, but we cannot take responsibility. We believe we shouldn’t be book burners, but fire extinguishers.