Armenians are resilient. Our stories are proof of that. Aurora’s Sunrise is one of those stories.
A dazzling blend of distinctive, watercolor-esque animation, archival footage of the film’s heroine and clips from the 1919 silent film Auction of Souls, Aurora’s Sunrise tells the true story of Aurora Mardiganian, a 14-year-old girl who escaped the slaughter of the Armenian Genocide and embarked upon an odyssey that took her to the heights of Hollywood stardom. The animated film, a co-production between Armenia, Lithuania and Germany, showcases the stark juxtaposition of the Genocide and the glitz and glamor of Old Hollywood, and how one girl – with her sharp wit and perseverance – was able to navigate it all.
“I was going through archival interviews with Armenian Genocide survivors at the Zoryan Institute,” recalls director and scriptwriter Inna Sahakyan, who has directed and produced feature-length documentaries, documentary series and shorts for over 15 years. “I stumbled upon an interview with Aurora Mardiganian and knew I had to tell her story.”
Mardiganian’s story is one that is beyond comparison. After escaping the Genocide through multiple miraculous twists of fate, compounded with her own courage and resourcefulness, Mardiganian found herself in the United States. Her story – which was being published in newspapers across the country – was then discovered by none other than Hollywood. Mardiganian then, for the purpose of ensuring the world pays attention to the Armenian Genocide, decided to do the unthinkable: star in a film – as herself – to tell the tale of her trauma and suffering. Through this, she became the face of the campaign – through funds, policy and beyond – of the Armenian people.
The film Auction of Souls has been lost for years. In 1994, only several months after Mardiganian’s death, bits and pieces – 18 minutes, to be exact – of the film were unearthed and edited into Aurora’s Sunrise.
“Even from the beginning, I really wanted the film to be a documentary. Animation was the tool that gave us the opportunity to tell Aurora’s story in a deeper way. Animation is one of the best storytelling tools, but I really wanted Aurora to be able to tell the story – in her own words – and want the audience to grasp the reality. Without her speaking, without seeing her face, without witnessing her true emotions, the story becomes more fantastical than something that happened,” explained Sahakyan.
Sahakyan worked with producer Vardan Hovhannisyan, lead illustrator Gediminas Skyrius, live-action director and editor Ruben Ghazaryan, art director Tigran Arakelyan and composer Christine Aufderhaar. This film was made possible with the academic contribution of the Zoryan Institute and is based on its Oral History Archive.
Aurora’s Sunrise has been in development since 2014, making it the first-ever animated documentary film made in Armenia and the first-ever animated feature created by Bars Media. Five years into this monumental project, the production of the film took a major hit as a result of the pandemic. Then, tragically, in 2020, tensions were rising in Artsakh and war broke out. The male staff at Bars Media were on the front lines, fighting for the Armenian cause. The war strained the project, causing moments of anxiety that the studio could possibly shut down. Thankfully, German and Lithuanian co-producers blazed on, keeping the project afloat.
The project is Armenia’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category. Among its many recognitions, it is the winner of the Audience Prize in the 2022 Animation is Film Festival, an official selection at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, the winner of the Silver Apricot at the 2022 Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival, an official selection of the 2022 Film Fest Hamburg and an official selection of Doclisboa 2022.
A touching story of the true meaning of Armenian resilience, Aurora’s Sunrise is a must-see film that will stay with you for years to come.
The film opens in theaters in Armenia on Thursday, November 3 at Moscow Cinema and Cinema Star Dalma Garden Mall, both located in Yerevan.
The film plays in Los Angeles at the Asian World Film Festival on Thursday, November 10 with a director Q&A and then again on Monday, November 14.