Golden Apricot: A New-Born Symbol of Armenia

By Susanna Harutyunyan

apricotsLong years of thirst and love for cinema led to the establishment of Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festivalin 2004. It was just a dream, a thought in the minds of three people: Harutyun Khachatryan, filmmaker and the Festival’s General Director; Mikayel Stamboltsyan, film critic and the Festival’s Program Director; and Susanna Harutyunyan, film critic and the Festival’s Artistic Director. This thought became reality in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, in 2004. The film festival was called “Golden Apricot” because the apricot symbolizes Armenia—it is an indispensable part of Armenia: the Latin name of an apricot is prunus аrmeniaсa, that means “Armenian plum,” and the warm color of the apricot is found in the Armenian national flag.

teamNevertheless, the festival was not born casually. Since independence in 1991, Armenian cinema made shy attempts, but eventually broke through international festivals. Armenian cinema created a huge resonance at festivals and retrospectives in Paris (Centre Pompidou, 1993), Montreal (2000), Bologna (2003), and others. International success also accompanied the new films of Harutyun Khachatryan, Suren Babayan, Vigen Chaldranyan, David Safaryan, Narine and Arsen Mkrtchyan, Edgar Bagdasaryan, and other Armenian filmmakers. It became obvious that in Armenia, a country with an established tradition of film production (the first film studio was founded in Armenia in 1923, and the first feature film, Namus, by Hamo Beknazarian was screened in 1925), a country where cinema is connected with such names as Sergei Parajanov and Artavazd Peleshian, needed its own international film festival, which it did not have before.

logo gaiffGolden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival (GAIFF) carries the theme of “Crossroads of Cultures and Civilizations.” The title may well serve as an impassioned mantra for building cultural bridges and fostering dialogue. It also reflects the history of Armenia itself, which for centuries has existed as a flash point for competing geopolitical forces. Armenia’s desirable geographic position has made it a bone of contention for various empires but, on the other hand, this has resulted in a civilization replete with global influences and a dynamic artistic heritage. We welcome films representing diverse ethnic groups, religions, and nations that depict the human experience, the everyday lives of people—ordinary and extraordinary, their troubles and their joys, as they try to find meaning in a changing world; as they struggle to redefine themselves in a world that recognizes fewer and fewer boundaries.

Yerevan is an evolving testament to that heritage, and Golden Apricot has fast become a prime destination for regional filmmakers, particularly those advancing universal values of peace, cultural harmony and mutual understanding. Accordingly, Golden Apricot features a multitude of films representing various nations, ethnicities, and religions, collectively depicting the richness of the human experience.

GAIFF15The Golden Apricot festival is different from other events in the sense that it is smaller and more intimate, but it continues to garner international attention and respect. The films are presented in two international competition sections: features and documentaries. The Grand Prix—Golden Apricot and a Special Mention—Silver Apricot are awarded in each category. The festival has a special pan-Armenian competitive section, the Armenian Panorama, for films produced by filmmakers of Armenian descent. The opening of the festival is always marked with the traditional blessing of apricots, for which Armenia is famous.

Among the honorable guests of the festival over the past 13 years were: Marco Bellocchio, Wim Wenders, Tonino Guerra, Claudia Cardinale, Fanny Ardant, Alain Terzian, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Nikita Mikhalkov, Alexander Sokurov, Claire Denis, Jafar Panahi, Michael Glawogger, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, Bruno Dumont, Fatih Akin, Lee Chang Dong, Jos Stelling, Krzysztof Zanussi, Dariush Mehrjui, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Bela Tarr, Kohei Oguri, Catherine Breillat, Leos Carax, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Semih Kaplanoghlu, Godfrey Reggio, Victor Erice, Agnieszka Holland, Istvan Szabo, Margarethe von Trotta, Jia Zhangke, Kim Ki-duk, South Amos Gitai, Otar Ioseliani, Robert Guediguian, Ornella Muti, Nastassja Kinski, Jacqueline Bisset and others. Since 2005, Atom Egoyan’s name is strongly connected to the Golden Apricot festival, when he was appointed permanent President of the Festival.

GAIFF2016Among the main winners of the festival there have been: Ararat by Atom Egoyan (Canada/ France), 2004; The Sun by Aleksandr Sokurov (Russia/ Italy/ Switzerland/ France), 2005; Three Times by Hou Hsiao-hsien (France/ Taiwan), 2006; Import Export by Ulrich Seidl (Austria/ France/ Germany), 2007; The Mermaid by Anna Melikian (Russia), 2008; The Other Bank (Georgia/ Kazakhstan) by George Ovashvili, 2009; Kosmos by Reha Erdem (Turkey/ Bulgaria), 2010; Nader and Simin: A Separation by Asghar Farhadi (Iran), 2011; In the Fog by Sergei Loznitsa (Germany/ Belorus), 2012; Circles by Srdan Golubović, (Serbia/ Germany/ France/ Croatia/ Slovenia), 2013; The Tribe by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy (Ukraine), 2014; Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra (Colombia/ Venezuela/ Argentina), 2015; and Ungiven by Branko Schmidt (Croatia), 2016.

The 13th GAIFF in 2016 had about 1,000 submissions from 91 countries. During the seven days of the festival the viewers had an opportunity to watch over 138 films. In addition to a wide range of international titles, the festival played host to an ever-expanding film market, offering a gateway to an entire region’s cinematic output.

GAIFF wendersBased on the vital need for a wide professional and cultural network, GAIFF has launched the “Directors Across Borders” (DAB) program in 2007. On 30 January 2007, the DAB program was officially recognized as the basic regional co-operation platform between Golden Apricot IFF, Rotterdam IFF and Pusan IFF. DAB is a regional network of film directors and film professionals who share the common belief that cinema is a unique medium of expression which transcends political, ideological, racial or religious borders and connects people. DAB’s aim is to determine the common problems typical for states in transition, and to facilitate film co-production projects addressing issues of multi-nationalism and multi-culturalism, values tradition, social cohesion, diversity, and cultural heritage. DAB is dedicated to transnational and multilateral cooperation, exchange, professional training and knowledge-sharing between Armenia and the region and beyond. The main event of the program is the annual DAB Regional Co-production Forum, consisting of workshops, presentations, pitching sessions, seminars, and a film program. It is a unique industry event in the region, providing an environment for regional and international industry professionals to meet. In total, 250 filmmakers and film journalists from the region have received training and attended workshops organized by the DAB Project.

“Armenia—The Apricot Revolution” was the title of David D’Arcy’s article on Armenian cinema published in Screen International on 25 July 2008. It highlights the importance of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival. Since 2004, the festival has been seen as a revolution in overcoming the deep crisis of national film production in Armenia and in integrating Armenian cinema within the global film community.

Armenia does not have much in terms of film production today, but the country has acquired a new symbol: the international film festival Golden Apricot. By this new symbol Armenia has become known in the world of modern cinema.

Susanna Harutyunyan
Yerevan


Works Cited:

D'Arcy, David. 2008. “Production –Armenia – The apricot revolution. Screen International 25 July

 

Susanna Harutyunyan © 2016

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