YEREVAN (Asbarez)—Opening ceremonies for the 14th annual Golden Apricot International Film Festival were held July 9, kicking off this year’s festival amid controversy stemming from the organizers’ decision to cancel an off-competition screening of 40 films showcasing work of filmmakers from around the world, with some accusing organizers of censorship.
Filmmakers who had submitted their work to be screened in an off-competition program entitled, “Armenians: Internal And External Views,” were informed Friday through an email from Golden Apricot organizers that the screening of the entire slate of films was cancelled, without elaborating on a reason for this decision.
Filmmaker Hrayr Eulmessekian, whose film Vahé Oshagan: Between Acts, was to have been screened during “Armenians: Internal and External Views” received the email, which he shared on his Facebook page.
“We want to inform you that Armenians: Internal and External Views non-competition program is completely cancelled. We apologize for any inconveniences,” said the email received by Eulmessekian and the other filmmakers whose works were to be screened.
The decision has also baffled Beirut-based filmmaker Nigol Bezjian whose documentary, Temple of Light, centering on the closure of the Melkonian School in Cyprus, was to have been screened during the program.
“The film is about shutting down of the Melkonian School and now the film is shut [down] in Yerevan,” Bezjian told Asbarez through Facebook Messenger, pointing to the irony of the situation.
At the same time, activists took to social media to voice their anger at the cancelation, with some claiming that two LGBT-themed films, which were part of the program’s slate were at the heart of the decision to cancel the entire program.
A documentary, Listen to Me: Untold Stories Beyond Hatred, and Apricot Groves, a fiction film featuring LGBT characters, were originally included in the “Armenians: Internal And External Views” lineup.
Armenia’s Cinematographers’ Union said that due to the passing of the group’s former director, Rouben Gevorgyants on June 23, the group was in mourning and would not screen any films. The group had said earlier that the two LGBT-themed films would have to be removed and threatened to cancel the entire showcase of 40 films.
Throughout the weekend social media sites were abuzz with allegations and finger pointing and conclusions that the Golden Apricot organizers caved in to archaic approaches toward LGBT people and cancelled the entire slate.
The organizers are doing themselves a disservice by not clearly articulating the impetus for the cancelations. Asbarez’s email inquiry to the organizers of the festival remains unanswered.
Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan and his actress and activist wife Arsinée Khanjian posted an announcement on Facebook decrying the decision to cancel the slate of films. They also argue that the best way to honor a late cinematographer is to ensure that the medium continues to flourish and proliferate.
“We are very concerned about the censorship by the Union of Cinematographers and the following decision to cancel an entire programming by the Golden Apricot Film Festival. Atom was President of the Festival for almost ten years and it’s dismaying to see a festival that we both proudly advocated for within the international film community in the name of films and filmmakers that spoke of such urgent human rights issues can be suppressed, especially when these ideas need to be discussed and brought to light,” said the announcement by the two Diasporan artists.
“Surely there is no better way to honour the spirit of an important Armenian filmmaker, Rouben Gevorgyants, than by making sure new films from Armenian voices can be seen and shared. We have never heard of a program of new films being cancelled to commemorate a cineaste’s death as a sign of mourning and respect! This claim seems, therefore, quite preposterous. We urge the Festival to review this outlandish decision. We urge the Festival to present this programme of thought-provoking work which reflects the true diversity of voices present in Armenia today and the Diaspora alike,” added the announcement.
The festival kicked off on Sunday with the traditional blessing of the apricots, a fruit indigenous to Armenia, and continued with the unveiling of stars of directors Frunze Dovlatyan, Yuri Yerznkyan and cinematographer Sergey Israelyan at Charles Aznavour Square in Yerevan.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by founding director of the festival Harutyun Khachatryan and Ralph Yirikian, the General Manager of VivaCell-MTS, which is the general partner of the festival.
After the introduction of the jury and the competition program, the festival’s opening film, Khaspush by Hamo Beknazaryan, was screened.
According to the organizers, this year, the annual film festival, founded in 2004, received 1,100 film submissions from 96 countries. Organizers selected 47 films to compete in three main categories: International Feature Competition (12 films), International Documentary Competition (16 films) and Armenian Panorama National Competition (19 films).