Wednesday 24 January 2018

Armenian Haunting - Armenian Genocide themed film featuring LGBTQ character (interview with writer/director Art Arutyunyan)

Writer and director Art Arutyunyan, known to readers of this blog for his gay-themed animated film Adamantine, have written and directed a film that touches on the theme of the Armenian Genocide - 'Armenian Haunting', and it features an LGBTQ character. It is planned for release in March 2018.
“ On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a young Armenian-American journalist's relatives mysteriously die one by one. Faced with the resistance of her secretive family, she must uncover the truth, but has to rely on the supernatural." (from the official synopsis)
The film combines the historic elements surrounding the Armenian Genocide and the genre of horror and supernatural.

The cast includes actors Vaneh Assadourian, Jay Dersahagian, Aneela Qureshi, Kyle Patrick Darling and Tamara Grigorian.

LGBTQ character Garo, played by Kyle Patrick Darling, is the main character Maro's best friend. Garo is gender fluid and posseses clairvoyant powers which he hides from people around him. Here are images with Garo in the scene.

Art Arutyunyan: “We are not going anywhere, and we will become a stronger voice in Armenian culture” 
- interview with Unzipped: Gay Armenia -

- In your ‘mini-bio’ on IMDb, it was mentioned that you were born and raised in Uzbekistan, then moved to LA to pursue a career in fashion. Could you tell me a little bit more about yourself, your family, your Armenian roots? And your move from being a fashion designer to film director/writer.

Both my parents were born in Armenia and moved to Uzbekistan in 1960-s, where they met. I was born in a small town, which didn't even have a name, but just a number: "Number-6". When I was 5 we moved to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, then a very diverse city with large Armenian, Korean, Jewish and other Russian-speaking communities. So, I was surrounded by a multitude of cultures. All of my friends and I went to Russian-language schools and colleges. As a child, I traveled to Armenia every summer as both of my parents still had a lot of relatives back home.

I was in High school when USSR collapsed. I got my Bachelors degree in Economics at Tashkent State University, then moved to Los Angeles to study fashion and found a job in the garment industry fairly quickly. The rest of my family followed one by one. I designed clothing for Forever 21, Nordstrom, Target, Kohl's, Macy's, and that was my specialty: affordable fashion. However, there was a point where my love for film kept pulling me away.

While I was still designing, I wrote and produced my very first short film with my now business partner, Armand Petri. And so our partnership began, and now we have "Together Magic Film Group" that consists of 3 divisions: "Reel Nightmare" - horror, supernatural, paranormal; "Together Magic Films" - LGBTQ themed; "Winning Streak" - dramas, comedies and other general public genres.

- Your quote from the same ‘mini-bio’: "It is important for me to develop scripts and concepts that I respond to on an emotional level rather than intellectual”. The topic of the Armenian Genocide must have been quite an emotional for you too. Do you remember any personal stories that your parents or grandparents perhaps told you?

The theme of Armenian Genocide has always been a part of my conversations with my father, who's a very passionate Armenian, perhaps the most passionate. I must admit, I didn't feel connected to the subject up until maybe a couple of years ago, when I was looking for a theme to write about. I started talking to my father about it again, and the stories just poured out of him, and his passion has definitely inspired me. I recorded our conversations and started doing more research.

Even though this is a historic event, I wanted to write about it in more dramatic terms, where the Armenian Genocide is a backdrop to a character, where it puts him or her through the tragedies. So, as of now I have written 2 scripts on the subject: "Armenian Haunting", a paranormal mystery and "Anoush", a drama that follows a young Armenian girl Anoush as she fights for survival in the 1915 Turkey. "Armenian Haunting" is set to be released this year, while "Anoush" is in need of financing. Ideally, I would like to shoot "Anoush" in Armenia with local crew and cast, of course, in Armenian language.

- Any news item, article, let alone the film about the Armenian Genocide are being treated with sensitivity among Armenians both in Armenia and Diaspora. Are you afraid of the reaction you may receive?

"Armenian Haunting" is at its core a paranormal mystery film. On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, young Armenian American, Maro, finds herself in the midst of a mysterious plague that kills her family one by one. I wanted to make an entertaining and educational film that, hopefully, keeps the audiences interested and at the same time teaches them about the Genocide. I treat the subject with respect, but I do realize that there is a risk of getting unwanted reaction. I am a firm believer that Armenians everywhere deserve to have this story told in as many ways a possible. Same as the theme of Holocaust. Armenian Genocide needs to be told in different ways: dramas, horror, documentaries, historical series on PBS, you name it. It needs to become a strong cultural theme and soon! 

- I always wanted to see a film that will depict a same-sex relationship, love set against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide. I understand your film’s storyline is different but how important for you to have an LGBTQ character in such film?

In "Armenian Haunting", the LGBTQ character, Garo is important not only as he provides Maro with important information, but also as a voice of frustration of the Armenian LGBTQ community. We are frustrated because we are not accepted and understood by our own people. In the film, Garo points out that Maro's family suffers from "Armenicus Mysogynisticus". It is absolutely important for me to represent LGBTQ characters in all kinds of different ways, including Armenian LGBTQ persons. It holds a special place in my heart.

- Do you plan to showcase it in Armenia? As you may be aware, last year the Golden Apricot international film festival based in Yerevan censored 2 Armenian LGBT-themed films. But I believe we should keep challenging it. Do you plan to submit it there? Or any other international and Diaspora film festivals?

"Armenian Haunting" will have Armenian subtitles and I hope to reach Armenians all over the world. And I agree with you, we need to challenge Armenian culture's attitude toward LGBTQ community. We are not going anywhere, and we will become a stronger voice in Armenian culture.

I am not thinking about festivals yet, but it definitely will be on my radar with "Armenian Haunting".

- In an email exchange you were very fond of the actors in the film. How did you know or chose them? I would imagine an indie film like the Armenian Haunting would have a small budget.

"Armenian Haunting" has a minuscule budget, so I had to make sure my script was in good shape before I approached actors. My main goal was to cast as many Armenian actors as possible, due to the subject matter. The lead actress in the film is an absolute gem, Vaneh Assadourian. I felt so lucky to have her on the set every day of the shoot. Vaneh brought that special quality and Armenian flavor to the role of Maro. 

- What is next in your pipeline? Any Armenian LGBTQ-themed storyline?

We are releasing a drama set in Louisiana, "Are You From Dixie?" this year, as well. It was written by my business partner, Armand Petri and I had an honor of directing it. And I am looking for financing for "Anoush" that features an important gay character. 
Look forward to watching the film, and will definitely keep an eye on Anoush and more works by Art Arutyunyan.

Few more stills from the Armenian Haunting film.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Help PINK Armenia to open LGBT centres outside capital Yerevan - in Vanadzor and Gyumri

Great cause for new year donation to support establishing LGBT community centres in 2 major cities outside Armenia capital Yerevan - Vanadzor and Gyumri.

33K USD will help to establish the centres and to cover running costs for a year. The costs include logistics, rent, refreshments in the centres, services of professional psychologists and lawyers.

PINK will then apply to other programs to sustain the centres beyond the first year. If successful, this could serve as a basis to expand community centres in more places in Armenia.

Donate today and become a part of the change!