GLOUCESTER, Mass.—Nubar Alexanian, 62, has spent the past 35 years working as a photojournalist and filmmaker. He’s traveled to more than 40 countries shooting for such prestigious magazines as Life, Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, Fortune, and Geo.
He’s also published five books and rubbed elbows with some of the most influential people throughout the musical world like Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis, and Garth Brooks.
Daughter Abby, 24, is a recent graduate of Vassar College. Over the past decade, she has spent summers and vacations working on her dad’s still photography and film sets in various positions.
Together, they’re a father-daughter team uniquely positioned to make a compelling film that speaks to the challenges that Armenian families face today.
Their work is entitled, “Journey to Armenia: Three Generations from Genocide.” It’s the inspiring story of how a young woman’s curiosity propels her reluctant father to join her in finally confronting their family’s dark past and discovering how the denial of this 1915 Armenian Genocide affects them today.
So why does this movie differ from others we’ve seen on the genocide?
“There are no others I have seen about the effects of denial and the silence that has been experienced over three generations,” says Nubar Alexanian. “It’s a feature length documentary about the scars of silence and how a staggering act of inhumanity has forever changed what it means to be Armenian.”
The Alexanians have targeted a release date of December 2014. The film will run between 55-75 minutes, and has added Errol Morris to their production team. The man is well known in this industry. His film, “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” won the Academy Award in 2004 for Best Documentary Feature.
Nubar and Abby toured Historic Armenia last year and reveled at the land of their ancestors. It was an inspiring experience with Armen Aroyan as their tour guide and others, like Steve and Angele Dulgarian, who have made repeated trips to Armenia with their family. An added inducement was the clarinet virtuosity of Dr. Louis Najarian, who regaled the group at every turn.
The mere mention of his project brings emotional gyrations to Nubar Alexanian. He’s prepared to run the gauntlet with this, not only from his own family’s perspective, but his entire heritage intertwined. It’s a mission that weighs with determination, grit, and absolute necessity.
“The film tells a story that is deeply personal but also reflects the intergenerational experiences of immigrant families in America,” he says. “It explores larger questions about the devastating effects of denial, the scars of silence, and the healing power of curiosity. It echoes the story of families all over the world who suffer tragedies, flee, create new lives with old traditions, and search for their place in a heritage they only half understand.”
In her mid-20s and half-Armenian, Abby spent her life wanting to feel connected to her heritage, but always felt removed. The issue of genocide was never discussed in family confines.
“Her determination to uncover the truth finally forced me and my parents to confront the trauma that had been avoided for decades,” she says.
The film will include breath-taking scenes of eastern Turkey that will be used to juxtapose the majesty of this ancient and fertile land with stories of what happened there.
Alexanian spent much of his career traveling the world as a documentary photographer, but never once traveled to Armenia or eastern Turkey, where his family lived for centuries.
Although he was raised Armenian, he drifted from his roots, not looking back or wondering why until Abby surprised him by asking if they could visit Historic Armenia together.
“My grandmother was among the few survivors of the longest death march in the genocide era,” she says. “After witnessing the massacre of her parents, husband, and three daughters, she was forced to walk over 800 kilometers across the scorching desert from Yalova, Turkey, to Aleppo, Syria.”
Unlike other documentaries, the Alexanians haven’t gone down the black hole arguing whether genocide occurred or not. Their film assumes that fact and begins there. It’s current. And they’ve already received some backlash from it.
“We’ve gotten some death threats from Turkish lobbyists,” he brought out. “It only heightens the desire to proceed with it.”
The film incorporates DV home video footage of Armenians visiting their ancestral land, shown by Armen Aroyan, who’s been guiding tour groups over the past 20 years. The Alexanians have big plans for this, hoping to show it in movie theaters, film festivals, and on television and international broadcasts. The International Istanbul Film Festival has expressed an interest.
“Beyond that, we plan to market our film for home viewing with a special emphasis on educational venues,” Nubar Alexanian says.
His nutmeg venture is called Walker Creek Media, a company that prides itself in documentary films and photographs.
The family’s personal investment has been huge: 18 months of planning and preparation marked by an aggressive fund-raising campaign. A successful kick-starter campaign brought in $30,000 online. Nubar and wife Rebecca are the primary investors with over $100,000 in the project.
They’ve been living in Gloucester for many years and are very tuned into the history and traditions of this seacoast community.
“This spring and summer, we’ll be shooting interviews throughout the United States,” Nubar confirms. “Our final shooting trip will be a three-week excursion to eastern Turkey later this year. Final editing and packaging will take place next July, ready for broadcast in August or September of 2014.”
Nubar Alexanian recently spent two days reaching out to 350 students at Pingree School in Hamilton. Also addressed were teachers and community leaders. He was joined by Ruth Thomasian, the executive director of Project SAVE, based in Watertown. His film proved a perfect venue for discussion.
“The response was deeply moving,” he described. “We’re committed to engaging both the Armenian and non-Armenian communities in this way.”
As the centennial approaches in 2015, Nubar Alexanian hopes his documentary will address many issues on the international stage, answer the “Armenian Question” once and for all, get people in harmony with one another, and foster some justice for our people.