The Hamazkayin Toronto Klatsor chapter’s eleventh annual Pomegranate Film Festival (POM XI) concluded a five-day program of engaging cinema and unforgettable discourse celebrating filmmaking talent from around the world on Nov. 20. Thirty-eight films were screened from 14 countries. The Festival began with a special presentation of the brand new motion picture “Earthquake,” followed by a screening of Atom Egoyan’s latest masterpiece, “Remember,” at Silver City Fairview Cineplex.
Armenia’s Ambassador to Canada, H.E. Mr. Armen Yeganian, welcomed participants and introduced the opening film, “Earthquake,” following introductory remarks to a packed auditorium delivered by the chair of the Hamazkayin Toronto Klatsor chapter, Tamar Donabedian. “Earthquake” is based on the true acts of heroism that transpired during and after the ferocious calamity that took place in Armenia on Dec. 7, 1998.
The second film on opening night, “Remember,” the audience had the exclusive opportunity to converse with director Atom Egoyan about human memory when grappling with the complexities of trauma. Egoyan engaged the audience during an intimate question and answer session following his feature, which was preceded by a short film that Egoyan narrated and was commissioned by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights about a German soldier who became the chief archivist and photographer of the Armenian Genocide during World War I. Dr. Jeremy Maron, a curator from the Museum in Winnipeg, introduced the short film about Armin Wegner, the German soldier whose photographs to this day remain among the most authentic evidence of the Armenian Genocide that began in 1915.
The evening of Nov. 17 was a magical affair as filmmakers Aren Pedeci and Ela Alyamac from Istanbul attended the sold-out Canadian premiere of their groundbreaking film, “Lost Birds,” at Silver City Fairview. The film depicts the Armenian Genocide without displaying any violence and is told through the eyes of children. Alyamec and Pederci were honored for their courage after the screening, as “Lost Birds” is the only film ever made entirely in Turkey about the Armenian Genocide, a topic which is considered taboo in the country—a mere mention of it by Turkish citizens in the past has led to criminal charges being laid against them.
Chris Alexander, the Canadian Cabinet Minister who laid a wreath at the foot of Tsitsernakaberd (Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex) in commemoration of the Genocide during the Centennial last year, presented both filmmakers with a commemorative gift on behalf of the Festival, complements of Narinée designs.
The comedy, “All That Jan,” completed the evening Nov. 17 with much laughter and applause. Director Alexander Andranikian attended the Canadian premiere and took part in an entertaining question and answer session, while discussing the trials and tribulations of filming a motion picture in a remote village in Russia.
On the evening of Nov. 18, the Festival moved south with the Canadian Premiere of charismatic director Serge Avedikian’s latest film, “Lost in Armenia,” at the Regent Theatre in uptown Toronto. Gemini award-winning actress Arsinée Khanjian, who stars in the film, joined Avedikian at the podium following the screening and they collectively addressed the audience.
The evening culminated with three-time Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Steve Kurkjian attending the special screening of “Spotlight,” winner of the 2016 Oscar for Best Motion Picture. Reporter Arda Zakarian initiated a thoughtful question and answer session with Kurkjian following the film. Kurkjian was instrumental in creating the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigative journalistic team in the 1970’s that led to the unraveling of the child abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church, as depicted in the film.
The visually stunning feature movie “Memories of the Wind,” by Ozcan Alper, opened the program on Nov. 19 at the Hamazkayin Theater. The short film, “Sktorashen,” accompanied the feature, equally revealing the beauty of rural Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh/NKR). The unique documentary, “One, Two, Three…” by Arman Yeritsyan, was the next feature film scheduled. This documentary was attended by a large number of senior citizens who were uplifted by the powerfully optimistic spirit of the film that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, whereby elderly community members organize and perform in dance spectacles in order to combat depression and other ills.
A series of short films took part in the segment titled, “Symphony of Film: O Canada,” which largely showcased the talents of Canadian filmmakers, including local directors Kalen Artinian, Alex Kerbabian, Tatevik Galestyan, Armen Poladian and Ara Sagherian who were all present to introduce their films. Thirteen short films were presented, nine of which were directed by Canadians.
The much anticipated Gala Soirée took place on the evening of Nov. 19. Los Angeles based comedians Vahé Berberian and Vahik Pirhamizei delighted the capacity crowd with their wit after the screening of the Canadian Premiere of their feature film, “3 Weeks in Yerevan.” Chair of the Festival Jury Silva Basmajian moderated the session between the two funnymen. In turn, much to the delight of the audience, the comedians surprised Basmajian, past Executive Producer at the National Film Board of Canada, bestowing upon her the Golden POM Award, the Festival’s highest honor marking Basmajian’s 10th year as Chair of the Festival’s Jury. Over her 30-year career at the National Film Board, Basmajian has produced over 200 films and served as a mentor to many aspiring filmmakers. She has voluntarily reviewed and considered over 300 films in her capacity as Chair of the Pomegranate Film Festival Jury. Following the screening, attendees continued to enjoy the delicacies at the the winter-themed POM market while listening to live music into the wee hours of the morning.
The Festival’s final day, referred to as Super Sunday, comprised of thirteen films, commencing with Meg Ryan’s latest film, “Ithaca.” The film is based on an original screenplay written by William Saroyan and included a cameo appearance by Tom Hanks.
“Ithica” was followed by a couple of well researched documentaries. The first of which was the Canadian Premiere of multiple Emmy Award-nominated director Bared Maronian who spoke very eloquently following the film in a broad-ranging interview conducted by Raffi Sarkissian, chair of the Sara Corning Centre for Genocide Education. Numerous dignitaries were in attendance including the Federal member of Parliament for Markham-Unionville, Bob Saroya, who congratulated director Maronian as well as Festival organizers publicly in Parliament the following day.
Syrian born director Nigol Bezjian’s latest documentary, “Temple of Light,” was the centerpiece of the Festival’s annual “Tales from the Diaspora” series. Bezjian was interviewed by longtime colleague Arsinée Khanjian following his film. Bezjian’s film was preceded by three short films, of which Toronto based photographer and director Jamie Day Fleck was present to introduce her film, “The Voice of the Violin.” Filmmaker Hayk Matevosyan from Los Angeles introduced his timely new short “Syria My Love.”
Following the documentaries, the evening was comprised of feature films, including Levon Minasian’s “Bravo Virtuoso,” a co-production between Armenia and France. The film was co-produced by legendary French director Robert Guediguian and one of Armenia’s most popular filmmakers, Hrach Keshishyan. This film noire was preceded by two short films, “Red Apples” following its World Premiere at TIFF in September and “One I Heard a Sweet Voice,” a sentimental film about a young boy who is hearing impaired and learns to master the piano.
The Festival’s penultimate film was the North American Premiere of “Good Morning.” A feature film about a young father who lives through the first twenty-five years of post-Soviet independence in the new Republic of Armenia. The film is a well woven coming of age story, encompassing the young republic’s independence movement, war with neighboring Azerbaijan, food and electricity crisis, along with meeting one’s first love and overcoming childhood fears.
“Good Morning” was presented with a short documentary “How to Cross from Jiliz to Jiliz.” The short film premiered at the Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival and depicted the absurdity of how far a young girl must travel in order to visit family members who reside in the same village but live in a home on the other side of the international border between Armenia and Georgia.
The 2016 Pomegranate Film Festival’s closing film was the North American Premiere of “Head of State” by Director Hrant Yeritskinyan. Initially from Armenia, Yerkinitsyan now spends half the year working in Toronto. He participated in a Q&A following his delightful comedy hosted by comedian and filmmaker Vahik Pirhamzei.
Following the screening of “Head of State,” Jury Chair Silva Basmajian was joined by fellow jurors, director Hagop Goudsouzian and actress Lara Arabian, to present the Festival’s Annual Jury Awards;
Best Short Film: THE DOCTOR
Honorable Mention: HOW TO CROSS FROM JILIZ TO JILIZ
Souren Chekijian Memorial Award for Best Narrative Short Film: SYRIA MY LOVE
Dr. Michael J. Hagopian Award for Best Documentary Film: WOMEN OF 1915
Honourable Mention: ONE, TWO THREE…
Best Feature Film: GOOD MORNING
Honourable Mentions: EARTHQUAKE and LOST BIRDS
WOMEN OF 1915 also captured the Festival’s Audience Choice Award, followed by LOST BIRDS and EARTHQUAKE.
The 12th annual Pomegranate Film Festival is scheduled to take place between November 16-19, 2017.