Karen Avetisyan • Artistic director, Golden Apricot International Film Festival
“The process of building up new Armenian cinema is long-term and is now still at the fermentation stage”
- Returning to its original dates in July, Armenia’s major film event places an emphasis on regional cinema, as confirmed by its artistic director
After being affected by the pandemic and the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (taking place from 10-17 July) is back in shape for its 19th edition with an excellent international programme, a stronger accent on the Regional competition, and an exciting line-up in its GAIFF Pro sidebar. Karen Avetisyan elaborates on this year’s achievements and shares his thoughts on the slow process of constructing the new Armenian cinema, as well as on the boycott call for Russian films.
Cineuropa: The festival severely suffered from the pandemic and the latest conflicts, and the festival dates were disrupted. Considering this, as well as the fact that you had less than a year to prepare the 2022 edition, did you manage to get it back to its original shape?
Karen Avetisyan: In 2020, the festival was held in parallel with the War in Artsakh, which was kind of a small victory. If war as a phenomenon itself is a defeat, culture is surely capable of victories, particularly in cases when those victories’ aims were to stand for culture. So, I think the 2020 edition was the smallest but the most existential one. In 2021, in post-war and pandemic conditions, we were able to present a complete programme, hosting filmmakers such as Paul Schrader, Nadav Lapid, and Kornél Mundruczó, while this year we want to finally try to soar, even though the evil of war never seems to end, only to migrate from one region to another.
We are heartily ready to welcome an exciting edition, shared with diverse artists such as the legendary Costa-Gavras, whose Z (1969) must be watched today as nothing but the oracle's prophecy. We will also welcome the brilliant experimenter Albert Serra, the multi-regional master of political conflicts Terry George, the anthropologist of the homo-soveticus Ilya Khrzhanovsky, and Philip Bober who is a producer but I consciously call him a great artist, too. He will introduce Triangle of Sadness [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile] less than two months after it won the Palme d'Or in Cannes, while Costa-Gavras will be our Guest of Honor a month before he receives a lifetime achievement award in Locarno on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Last year, no Armenian feature films were included in the programme. What was the reason for that, and what is the situation now?
In 2021, we were negotiating with a couple of Armenian features to be part of the Regional Competition. There were films that refused and even got offended, thinking that the programme was of secondary importance, though we consider it similar to Cannes’ Un Certain Regard or Karlovy Vary’s Proxima sections. But we probably hadn't managed to give that programme the consistent and deserved emphasis it needed at that time. This year, we are strengthening it even more, trying to prove to ourselves and to the filmmakers that it is of primary importance to us and that it can really be far-reaching.
We strive for a regional focus at least as much as an international one, if not more. One of the common problems of many festivals of the "second echelon" is the unjustifiable ambition to be labeled as "international", but in fact, a regional focus can bring more weighty dividends and deeper prospects. Also, being regionally oriented does not preclude being international.
However, the filter for the Armenian full-length films is more demanding than for the short ones. We are trying to promote them but not at the expense of quality. So, this year we are happy to have three full-length films, two of them in the regional competition and one in the international. 5 Dreamers and a Horse [+see also:
interview: Vahagn Khachatryan and Aren…
film profile] joins the programme after Visions du Réel, HotDocs, and Wiesbaden; Aurora's Sunrise [+see also:
interview: Inna Sahakyan
film profile] after Annecy, but that does not bother us as we all have a common goal: the international recognition of Armenian films.
On the other hand, the Armenian shorts in the Apricot Stone competition were of high quality in 2021, so I have high expectations for this year as well. Could you maybe disclose details regarding your selection criteria, as well as your overall impressions of the upcoming generation in Armenian cinema?
For the Armenian shorts, we consciously do not set a very high, insurmountable bar, believing that short cinema accepts a certain tolerance, backlash оr space for encouragement. I am not sure that this year's selection is much stronger than the previous one. In fact, we are looking at this development in the timeframe of several more years. This year's selection clearly proves that the process of building up the new Armenian cinema is long-term and is now still in the fermentation stage. Creating a new cinema movement or style is a complex process depending on various factors, and having just "good films" is only one of those factors. Now we're at the stage where we have good films, but there is not yet a recognisable tendency in our national filmmaking. I hope we're at least on the right path.
Is the GAIFF Pro industry sidebar contributing to the process?
Definitely, as it runs industrial and educational functions in parallel, which are indispensable. 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 appeared in the programmes of international festivals many times. As he says, every country has its own "demons of cinema", the search for which forms and creates a new cinema.
What is your opinion regarding the call for boycotting Russian cinema? Is the festival’s policy in line with the tendency?
The tendency has become so radical that we do not want to be part of it. We believe that a total cancel culture means ignoring the obvious lessons from history, as well as burning Leon Feuchtwanger's or Heinrich Mann's books with our own hands. Absolutely the same thing, just in a different period and historical-political context.
In a couple of days, we are going to show a film with the title Z, as well as the Russian productions DAU. Degeneration [+see also:
film profile], Captain Volkonogov Escaped [+see also:
film profile] and Tchaikovsky's Wife [+see also:
film profile], which could be found to be unethical gestures but we cannot feel accountable. We believe that we ought not to be book burners, but fire-extinguishers.
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