YEREVAN—High above an apartment complex in Yerevan, not far from Freedom Square and the Opera House, repatriate Adrineh Gregorian watches the world she loves to see. And admire.
It’s been that way for a number of years, immersed in her beloved Armenia doing the projects that inspire the very nature of her existence.
On a clear day, she will see Mount Ararat. And with a clear mind, she will produce yet another film and one other compelling piece of art. Like the pendulum to a clock, it keeps working timelessly.
The 37-year-old has made Armenia her home for half her young life and wouldn’t have it any differently. She came here by way of Hollywood, Calif., and has no immediate intentions to ever go back permanently.
Both her parents are Armenian and live in Los Angeles. So what brought her here in the first place?
“My interest is working inside a country that continues to develop,” she points out. “Half my memories were made in this country. It has given more to me than I can ever give back.”
That may be a modest understatement when you consider her spirit. As a filmmaker, her work “Back to Gurun” won a Special Prize at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan. Prior to that, a documentary called “Bavakan” won critical acclaim for examining the high rate of gender selection abortions in Armenia. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Corner in 2013.
“I was so shocked by the kind acknowledgement from the jury president for ‘Back to Gurun’ that I forgot to give a speech before many Armenian politicians and artists at the closing ceremony,” she groaned. “If only I could have that moment back.”
The film is currently on its worldwide educational outreach tour, having covered 28 countries as part of People in Need and CaucaDoc. Eventually, it will be available on multiple platforms for larger audience appeal.
“I make documentary films that take years to complete with very little funding,” she notes. “If it wasn’t for a very supportive group of friends and crowd-funding on Indiegogo, ‘Back to Gurun’ would never have been made. If people want to see more Armenian films, they must become patrons of the arts.”
Gregorian was fortunate enough to develop the film with Oscar-nominated producers at Documentary Europe 17, Doc at Work, among other workshops. One trip to Gurun was all it took to document the homeland of her family. She formed an immediate love affair with the town.
“I really felt at peace in Western Armenia and especially Gurun,” she reveals. “I’m not sure if it was the thought of sleeping in the same beautiful valley as my ancestors, or that I was filming a documentary there.”
What impressed her most were the number of Armenian homes still standing, though occupied by Turks and Kurds. She enjoyed saying a simple prayer in the remaining churches or having tea in a home once owned by Armenians.
“We should not remember Western Armenia as a black hole in the map,” Gregorian maintains. “The beauty alone is breathtaking—the energy palpable. I highly recommend visiting Gurun.”
The film caught the attention of many, including historical linguist/genealogist Dr. Luc Baronian, who has researched his family’s history through generations. The former Boston University instructor is now teaching in Canada.
“The scenes Adrineh filmed in Gurun touched me very much, especially those in Tsakh Tsor, where my own family originated,” he said. “She filmed Armenian descendants still living there. I was caught by a scene with Turks from Greece living inside an Armenian home.”
The 63-minute documentary follows Gregorian’s journey 100 years after her grandfather fled the town as his family’s sole survivor in 1915.
“The story uncovers the lasting impact of a silenced genocide from the trauma passed down from generations to the broken ties and closed borders between two nations—and one individual’s search for resolution,” she describes.
On a given day, Gregorian starts out with Skype. People in Los Angeles half a day apart connect with her. Her filmmaking exploits absorb much of her time. Twice a week, she volunteers at Orran, an after-school program for children from disadvantaged families. Evenings are usually spent cooking with family and friends or strolling the streets of Yerevan.
There is also the artistic side. “Unbreakable Ties That Bind: Art Transcending Three Generations in One Family” represents one subject matter as seen through the eyes of different generations bound by bloodline and art.
The series is comprised of an acrylic collection of contemporary paintings reflecting her late maternal grandfather, photographer Grigor Zarookian. As an artist himself, Grigor inspired his granddaughter to reflect through the eyes of his camera lens.
An accomplished painter, her works have been exhibited in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and the United States. She has earned degrees from UCLA and the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
In 2008, Gregorian was awarded a United States Fulbright Grant to study reproductive healthcare in Armenia, focusing her research on sex-selective abortion, an international burden that has affected Armenia deeply over the past two decades. Her travels throughout the country have created deep awareness of the problem.
Gregorian has also worked in acquisitions at Oprah Winfrey’s cable network Oxygen Media, specializing in documentaries and international program acquisitions. Has she ever met with the television personality?
“Not her but with some incredible, smart, and diverse individuals,” she said. “Back then, the network was really at the forefront of female empowerment and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to work there.”
Gregorian credits much of her success to the education she received at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Los Angeles, from where she graduated in 1995.
“My friends there inspired and enriched me,” she lauded.
Being in Armenia for the Centennial left an indelible impression on Gregorian. She went to the Tzitzernagapert Genocide Memorial with her friend Susan from Istanbul, waiting hours in line from Yerevan center to reach the eternal flame.
As anticipated, her camera worked in overdrive, filming the monumental event. The evening before found her at a System of a Down concert.
“That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she exclaimed.
MY FAVORITE THINGS
Place: Datev, Armenia
Personality: Sergey Sargsyan and Narek Margaryan of ARMComedy
Book: Baruyr Sevag poetry
Film: “Life” by Artavazd Peleshyan
Food: Spas (yogurt soup)
Music: Anything by Lilit Pipoyan
Pet peeve: Liars
Vacation spot: A Greek island
Hobbies: Solving Rubik’s cube
Something that may surprise others: I’m Armenian and don’t eat khorovadz
If I could trade places with anyone for a day: Cher
Who I would entertain for dinner: Members of the United Nations Security Council