Looking Back is Yet to Come: 20th Golden Apricot International Film Festival

By Angela Hassassian

The 20th Golden Apricot International Film Festival, one of the most anticipated events in the heart of Yerevan, culminated this Sunday, with 11 Armenian films competing in the Apricot Stone competition, ten titles participating in the Regional Panorama Competition, and 11 titles competing in the International Feature-length Competition.

According to Karen Avetisyan, Art Director of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival, over the span of 20 years, the film festival can be separated into two periods: before and after 2020.

In that tragic year, a special edition of Golden Apricot was held in November amid the chaos of not only the pandemic but also the 2020 Karabakh War.

“We felt that it could have an effect of therapy because art has this kind of function, too,” said Avetisyan.

Since then, he believes that the post-war period of the festival came into play and is continuing until now. The subsequent editions have had a special focus on the issues, topics, and themes of post-war trauma. Many of the Armenian films participating in this year’s Apricot Stone competition are a reflection of this.

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The short film by Hasmik Movsisyan, 250 KM, is a perfect example of the harsh and heartbreaking reality of war. It is a film inspired by the true stories of 14-year-old Vahe and 11-year-old Ashot, two Armenian boys who saved their families during the 2020 Artsakh war, through a treacherous 250 kilometer journey. In the film, 14-year-old Vahe plays himself, sharing his narrative with the world.

Tigran Aghajanyan’s short film, Emptiness, touches on the path of redefining life and reality after experiencing significant trauma. The film tells the story of a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world who lost his perception of reality. The audience is taken on a journey of struggle as he tries to distinguish the real world from the torturous imaginings of his own mind. Emptiness previously gained recognition in the Yerevan Short Film Festival of 2023, earning awards for Best Short Film, Best Actor, and Festival Director’s Prize.

The short film, From the Work of the Devil by Dessil Mekhtigian, tells the story of a young woman who returns to Cairo, after being gone for 10 years, to organize an exhibition on the pioneer Armenian photographers who archived Egypt through time. As she prepares for the show, her family, her past and the city of Cairo begin to take hold of her.

Another Apricot Stone documentary film that focuses on the topic of preserving one’s identity is the short by Arman Ayvazyan, Stones. The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War ended in a Russian-mediated ceasefire forcing Armenia to cede territory it had controlled to Azerbaijan. As a result, thousands of Armenians living in these regions were forced to leave their homes. The documentary Stone delves into the story of the frantic effort of volunteers who risked their lives to enter the Lachin region only days before the handover deadline to search for and save beautiful sacred ancient Armenian stone inscriptions known as “khachkars.”

Coming to terms with the devastation of war is a harrowing personal journey, which is often mirrored in society through pieces of art, and films are no exception. This year, the festival has the slogan, “Looking back is yet to come,” because while anniversaries serve as an opportunity to take a retrospective look at the past, the festival organizers believe that it’s also a chance to look toward the future with hope.

To commemorate its 20th anniversary, the festival will end with a special screening of Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s Calendar (1993), presented in a newly restored and colorized version. Atom Egoyan’s Ararat, won the first prize in the Feature Film Competition at the very first Golden Apricot Festival.