September 28, 2023
SCA Alum Launches Inaugural Armenian Film Festival
By Benjamin Pola
When Armen Karaoghlanian graduated from SCA with a Bachelor’s in Critical Studies in 2012, two things really caught his attention — the community and the daily events. Fueled by a desire to foster their own tight-knit community, Karaghlanian and his wife embarked on a journey that led to the birth of the Armenian Film Society in 2015. From that point, it's been nothing short of a cinematic love affair, uniting Armenian filmmakers and enthusiasts alike. Pushing past their doubts of launching a film festival of their own, they've set the stage for the very first Armenian Film Festival in Glendale, California this month, which, by all measures, was a resounding success! We sat down with Karaoghlanian to uncover the behind-the-scenes magic that made this festival a reality and learn about the SCA network that showed up to support this inaugural venture.
What inspired you to start your own film festival, and what was the driving force behind your decision to take on this venture?
My wife Mary and I launched Armenian Film Society in 2015. We started by hosting screenings and events in an Armenian bookstore in Glendale in a space that held 40-50 people in total. Armenian Film Society was born partially from my time at USC. I had the great fortune of having access to events on campus on a daily basis as a student. I had the opportunity to watch films, meet filmmakers, and network with like-minded individuals. We had always felt that these types of opportunities were lacking in the Armenian community, and so we set out to create a community for us.
Mary and I would often discuss launching our film festival, but we'd also say, "The world doesn't need another film festival." We really believed that. There are far too many international film festivals in Los Angeles and around the world that do a fantastic job at curating films and programs; however, as we grew as an organization and as we hosted year-round events, we quickly saw that what the world does need is a film festival for, by, and about Armenians.
This year also just felt right for us. 2023 marks 100 years of Armenian cinema, and it felt appropriate to launch the Armenian Film Festival in a year that we would not only be celebrating Armenian films and filmmakers, but we'd also be ushering in the next 100 years of Armenian cinema.
Film festivals often have a unique identity and focus. Could you describe the vision and mission behind your festival, as well as the types of films and experiences you offered to both filmmakers and audiences?
The Armenian Film Festival provides a platform for Armenian films and filmmakers, but it also allows non-Armenians to discover Armenian stories.
The film festival features works from around the world that are accessible to anyone; every film is in English or features English subtitles. The conversations we have center around filmmaking. There just happens to be an Armenian connection to our programs. The short film programs, for instance, featured some of the best short films from this year, including a film that is a semifinalist for a Student Academy Award and two films that are Oscar-qualified. It's a space to discover new films and see stories from a part of the world you might not be familiar with, or learn more about a culture that you might not already be exposed to.
We held a discussion and book signing with Howard Kazanjian, producer of The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi. The majority of our attendees were not Armenian. They were simply there to hear from a legendary producer. The closing night of our film festival was an anniversary screening of Sev Ohanian's debut feature film, My Big Fat Armenian Family. Sev and I then had an in-depth conversation following the screening about his career— a conversation that is enlightening for anyone who is interested in filmmaking because he spoke about how he went from making an $800 Armenian movie to being where he is today in his career.
In addition to Howard Kazanjian and Sev Ohanian, were there any other notable collaborations or key industry figures who have supported your festival, and how these connections have contributed to your success?
Vidiots was incredibly supportive. We partnered on a screening of Sergei Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates a few weeks before our film festival, followed by an encore screening the day before our opening night. They were very helpful in getting the word out to their community. We value these types of partnerships because it's a natural fit for both parties.
Serj Tankian, Neve Campbell, and Oscar-winner Nick Vallelonga all attended our opening night. It's incredibly meaningful and hugely impactful for them to show up and support us.
Lastly, could you provide a list of all the SCA/USC alums who worked on/participated in the first annual Armenian Film Festival with you?
Yvette M. Amirian, ACE edited two of the films we screened (Carnivore and It Takes a Village...). Avo John Kambourian's thesis film Echoes of Kef Time screened as well. Tina Ter-Akopyan, who writes for the Daily Trojan, covered the festival.
To learn more about the Armenina Film Society, visit: www.armenianfilmsociety.com