Saturday, 9 September 2017

Adamantine - gay-themed animated film set in Uzbekistan, directed by Art Arutyunyan

The animation itself is not outstanding, but it’s fun to watch. What caught my attention was the setting and background behind it:
Gay-themed fairytale animation… set in rural Uzbekistan… directed by Armenian-American filmmaker.
Quite a mixture, eh?! Btw, that guy who was turned into a rock in Adamantine looks very Armenian :)) See trailer below.


The official synopsis reads: “In this gay fairytale set in rural Uzbekistan, a young shepherd longs to find his true love; but an evil mountain witch might stand in the way of his happily-ever-after.”

No much information is available about Art Arutyunyan, other than he is a head of production and development at Together Magic Films.

LA-based Together Magic Films produced number of other LGBT-themed films, including trans-themed Funeral, HIV/AIDS-related Undetected and other films, directed and/or produced by Art Arutyunyan (here is a link to his IMDb page).

Says Art Arutyunyan: “We are proud to share LGBT stories that anyone can enjoy.”

His frequent collaborator is a filmmaker Armand Petri (very scarce information about him too, he is mentioned in one article as head of operations at Together Magic Films).

Here you can see few pics of Art Arutyunyan and Armand Petri working on their new film “Are You From Dixie?” (source of pictures)

 *Art Arutyunyan (right), Armand Petri (left)

From Together Magic Films FB page: “Film/TV Content Producer and Distributor. We create and release innovative stories with universal themes, and inclusive casts. Our catalog includes: the hit LGBT comedy series "How It All Began" (2017), the acclaimed HIV AIDS thriller "Undetectable" and the upcoming feature film "Are You From Dixie?," depicting Latino life in the modern-day South.”

Here is their VIMEO page.

If you have Amazon Prime in the UK and US, you can watch some of their films there too.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Censorship in Armenia: Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan marred by censorship of Armenian LGBT-themed films

This was going to be a very different, positive post, about screening of two Armenian LGBT-themed films at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan.

I was pleased to see as part of the Golden Apricot’s (albeit non-competition) programme “Armenians: Internal and External Views” the schedule of 13 July for a feature film Apricot Groves (dir. Pouria Heidary) and groundbreaking documentary film Listen To Me (produced by PINK Armenia).

Here is what I tweeted only a few days ago (4 July) :
Nice. #Armenia #LGBT related feature film Apricot Groves and @pinkarmenia documentary Listen To Me @GAIFFYerevan Int'l Film Fest #Yerevan
On paper there is no censorship in Armenia. In reality this is how it works.

There are so called ‘FB warriors’ or ‘concerned citizens’ and associated trolls on Armenian sector of FB who upon pushing the button by their rulers start an 'outcry' campaign against (frequently but not exclusively) LGBT related issues. You know, full with typical amorality, family/traditional values, ’gay propaganda’ and similar bullshit, with frequent calls to attack, burn, kill LGBT Armenians and human rights activists. This is subsequently presented as a ‘pressure by society’ and voila.


“We want to inform you that ARMENIANS: INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL VIEWS non-competition program is completely cancelled. We apologize for any inconveniences.” (Тhis is what Golden Apricot sent to the filmmakers, whose films were included in the program)

Here is what happened. The Union of Cinematographers in Armenia that was to provide a space for the screening of the films, demanded to remove two Armenian LGBT-themed films from the programme due to an ‘outcry in society’ (= some FB users). According to the director of Golden Apricot Harutyun Khachatryan, they also mentioned… they are in mourning (Rouben Gevorgyants, the ex-director of the Union, passed away on 23 June), and they are not going to screen any movie.
Կինոմիության նոր ղեկավարները՝ նայելով «Ոսկե Ծիրան» կինոփառատոնի ինֆորմացիոն ծրագիրը, որում ԼԳԲՏ համայնքի մասին պատմող երկու ֆիլմ կար, և տեսնելով հասարակական աղմուկը, նշեցին, որ իրենք չեն կարող այն ցուցադրել: Այս մասին այսօր կայացած մամուլի ասուլիսին ժամանակ ասաց «Ոսկե Ծիրան» միջազգային կինոփառատոնի հիմնադիր և գլխավոր տնօրեն Հարություն Խաչատրյանը:
«Մեր գործընկերներից մեկը Կինոմիությունն է, որոնցից մենք դահլիճ չենք վարձում, այլ իրենք այդ ինֆորմացիոն ծրագիրը ցուցադրում են Կինոյի տանը: Մենք պայմանավորվել էինք Ռուբեն Գևորգյանցի հետ, ով վերջերս մահացավ: Ծրագիրը պետք է ցուցադրվեր և հանկարծ պարզվեց, որ բավականին մեծ աղմուկ կա ծրագրի շուրջ հասարակության կողմից: Նոր ղեկավարներն էլ հայտնեցին, որ իրենք այսպիսի սգի չեն կարող նման ծրագիր ցուցադրել»,- ասաց Խաչատրյանը՝ հավելելով, որ իրենք չէին կարող Կինոմիությանը ստիպել, քանի որ դահլիճը չէին վարձում:
As Arsinee Khandjian and Atom Egoyan indicated in their statement, “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!”

Instead of fighting this decision and finding an alternative venue, “Golden Apricot” has decided to withdraw the whole programme, which included around 40 films covering not only LGBT issues, but also different social issues, the Armenian Genocide, Nagorno Karabakh conflict etc. 

I was told from reliable sources that a well respected venue in downtown Yerevan offered to host the programme but Harutyun Khachatryan declined saying the decision was already made, too late to make changes, blah blah. Excuses.

Pressures to censor works of art, films, freedom of expression can come from different places, be that Soviet style union of cinematographers, president office, Facebook users and so on, but for a festival of Golden Apricot calibre to effectively succumb to that censorship and endorse it, is shameful and scandalous.

Festival that censors films doesn't deserve respect. It deserves boycott.

I hope participants, guests, partners and sponsors of the festival will protest. There can be absolutely no excuses and no justification for censorship whatsoever. No ‘apology’ can be accepted too, only the full restoration of the censored programme.

There is petition in this regard “Stop censorship in Armenia” that you can sign following this link.
The “Golden Apricot” should immediately restore the screening of all films regardless of the format. Otherwise the “Golden Apricot” International Festival should accept that they are the ones who are legitimizing the censorship and changes in the Festival. […]
We are not accepting the apology of the “Golden Apricot” against the censorship: if we do so, that would mean that we are endorsing this and future censorships. We are calling upon the organizers of the “Golden Apricot” to protect the films selected by them, instead of an apology, as well as to restore the whole program and screen all films in another place and to publicly condemn the actions of the Union of Cinematography of Armenia. Only by restoring the program the festival can keep and protect its’ former reputation. 
Says Pouria Heidary, director of Apricot Groves, one of two censored Armenian LGBT themed films:
"We made this film under the supervision of NATIONAL CINEMA CENTER OF ARMENIA a governmental institute that was responsible for cinema co-production with all the foreign countries that want to make a film in Armenia. they took our money and promised to support us. now nobody from that organization answers us, none of your cinemas screen our film and Golden Apricot film festival which is the biggest cinema and cultural event of Armenia does not screen our film which we put our love, our time and our art on it with the massage of love,friendship ,care and love of two neighbor countries. We wonder why these are happening???!!!!! 
My film has been screened in more than 43 festivals 3 of them were A grade film festivals 4 of them were Oscar qualify Film Festival 1 of them were BAFTA qualify film festival, we screened in biggest LGBT film festival in the world we have been the first Armenian film that ever screened in 2 countries in Africa, we won 5 awards under name of Armenia, we showed beautiful Armenia to world and made them hear your language more any other film in the past 15 years and in return all we get is hate.!!!" 
In their statement, Arsinee Khandjian and Atom Egoyan stressed that they are “very concerned about the censorship”:
"Atom Egoyan 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."

Monday, 26 June 2017

Armenians march at Toronto Pride

Of course, you can spot Armenians at Gay Pride marches, rallies and parades in any country. But more formal presence so far was noted in LA, San Francisco, NYC and Paris.

Yesterday this small beautiful group of LGBT Armenians in Toronto made history by marching with the Armenian tricolour amidst the sea of rainbow.

This was the first organised Armenian presence at Toronto Pride. Mark this day: 25 June 2017

Pictures below.


Friday, 26 May 2017

History in making: first LGBT-themed scrolling billboards in Armenia capital Yerevan

UPDATE 27 May 2017: Yerevan city hall, i.e. ruling Republican party mayor, ordered removal of LGBT-themed posters from scroller billboards, citing that they were not "authorised" by them. Aside from questionable legality of this claim, by ordering removal of these posters, Yerevan mayor blatantly endorsed discrimination against LGBT people. On the same day, so called "Europe Day" was celebrated in the Armenian capital. Truly, a city hall of shame.

The fact that these social ad posters were on display for 2 days is an achievement in itself by LGBT activists in Armenia. Queering of public spaces continues.
***

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Armenia consistently ranks towards the very bottom of European gay rights league tables. Still, despite all the challenges, local LGBT activists keep on queering the public spaces. The process that moved to yet another level today.

The sight of LGBT-themed social ad posters across three scrollers in downtown Yerevan, around Opera and Swan Lake, is absolutely awesome. They are supposed to stay there for 1 month.

So well done, PINK Armenia. Truly, a history in making.


The messages on posters say:

1.Դու ուզու՞մ ես, որ բոլորը երջանիկ լինեն, ուրեմն մաղթիր մեզ երջանկություն։ [‘Do you want everyone to be happy? Then wish us happiness’]

2.Դուք հանդիպում եք նրանց ամեն օր։ [‘You meet them every day’]

3.Տրանս անձինք մեր հասարակության մասն են։ [‘Trans people are part of our society’]

Related videos were circulated by PINK Armenia as part of IDAHOT week*: 

h

*Videos and posters have been produced by Action Studio and Deem Communication, in cooperation with Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO (PINK) and the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, through the EU-funded project “Solidarity Network for LGBTI Individuals in Armenia and Georgia”.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Meanwhile in Yerevan…

Rainbow Pace flag (Italian for peace) in Yerevan. So casual. So epic considering the circumstances.

Pace da tutti i balconi ("peace from every balcony”) Armenian way.



… vs. all the hysteria on Armenian social media surrounding the sight of rainbow flag at the British embassy.

And the saddest protest action I ever witnessed in Armenia (see the priceless picture below, via 168.am/Photolure).


*in front of the British embassy in Yerevan: "stop gay propaganda, we are tired of it" with 3 exclamation marks - you can't make this stuff up. It’s Armenia, baby, the land of gay propaganda, apparently, so very tiring to resist, I feel for you, guys *3 exclamation marks*

Thursday, 18 May 2017

British embassy in Yerevan raised rainbow flag to mark IDAHOT + more news from South Caucasus

For the first time ever, British embassy in Yerevan raised the rainbow flag to mark IDAHOT - the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.


To see the rainbow flag proudly waving in the very heart of Armenia capital, even though by a foreign country, is pretty historic.

Big respects to the UK Embassy in Yerevan. It’s an important act of solidarity with local LGBT activists.

And of course, all the usual suspects on Armenian Facebook and beyond were in a state of total agony at a sight of the rainbow flag.

I hope this will become a tradition and more embassies in Armenia will follow suit.

But more significantly and importantly, I wish THE day will come when I will see the rainbow flag waving openly at local venues, institutions, groups...



Btw, British embassy in Baku has joined embassies around the world in flying the rainbow flag.


In Tbilisi, embassy posted a picture with the British ambassador holding the rainbow flag to accompany their IDAHOT message.


In other important developments from the South Caucasus, brave LGBT activists in Tbilisi managed to hold an IDAHOT rally which reportedly passed without major incidents, although not without reports of physical assault.

Great coverage by OC media here: Queer rights activists mark 17 May in Tbilisi under heavy police presence; Church takes to streets


And awesome PINK Armenia unveiled their calendar of events to mark IDAHOT.

***
In a related development, while not as radical as British, the US embassy in Yerevan changed their Facebook cover photo to the rainbow flag for the occasion (great move!), and posted a message marking IDAHOT.



Friday, 5 May 2017

Eurovision 2017 - South Caucasus in Kyiv

UPDATE Friday 12 May 2017: Armenia's Artsvik did quite a good job during the first semi-final. She definitely pulled it off live on stage, and the song has grown on me. Watching her live, I've changed my opinion about the choice of song as she made it fit her vocals quite nicely.
Azerbaijan was not as good during the first semi, as I expected, and Georgia predictably did not reach the final.

There was another Armenian performing during the first semi-final: Hovig from Cyprus. He was pretty good too and passed through to the final. Quite an 'Armenian Eurovision' the show turned into.

And finally, the identity of those hot guys on the picture below revealed. They are the dancers on stage during Greece performance. You are welcome :))

***
First of all, this picture. Because I like it. The message. The visuals.


*posted by official Eurovision Twitter account: "It's all about celebrating love and diversity at #Eurovision". Quite a package, one might say :))

Now back to the main topic of this post.

All three South Caucasus countries represented by female leads.

The most interesting is Dihaj from Azerbaijan. They represent alternative music/art scene of the country. I have to say I like their image more than the song which is mainstream-ed to appeal to broader Eurovision audience. Still, the theme of Skeletons is not boring and they have a potential of interesting stage presentation, as was evidenced by videos from the rehearsals.

And Nigar, Copenhagen based Azeri artist, who participates in their videos is pretty hot. For more pics & info re the band see here.

Artsvik will represent Armenia. During Eurovision national preselection I was supportive of her because she had a potential with her vocal range (out of choices on offer, that is) but she needed a suitable song. And here comes the problem. The song they’ve chosen doesn't fit well with Artsvik’s vocals. The music video is very weird and as such memorable, visually could do better on stage. But the song is not a 'sing-able' song. It is not something I would listen to without seeing it or sing-a-long to. It’s instantly forgettable, song-wise.

Georgia's entry is seemingly the safest choice, ticking the most Eurovision ‘tick boxes’, beautiful singer, pleasant voice, a ballad. But overall it is not very memorable and a little bit boring.

I haven't seen most of other Eurovision entries yet, so can't say how strong or weak South Caucasus entries are compared to others. Suffice to note, I hardly see a winner of the Eurovision 2017 among South Caucasus countries. Still, exciting week ahead, with potentially some memorable presentations on stage.

In the meantime, enjoy this non-Eurovision video by Dihaj.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Parliamentary election in Armenia #armvote17 and LGBT rights

I have no much hopes left for elections in Armenia under current circumstances.

I know that at the end it will be the ruling Republican party and related to them & ex-president Kocharyan Prosperous Armenia party that will have a majority share in the next parliament.

I know that this election will not be clean and fair. Yet another “step forward” blah-blah…

I do not have a favourite party or political alliance to endorse. But the following list is my definite DO NOT VOTE for:
  • Republican party of Armenia 
  • Tsarukyan alliance (Prosperous Armenia) 
  • ARF Dashnaktsutyun 
  • Armenian Renaissance (‘re-branding’ of Orinats Yerkir by disgraced Artur Baghdasaryan)
  • Communist party. The only political party that explicitly included anti-LGBT statement within their election programme (կուսակցությունը պատրաստվում է «պայքարել համասեռամոլության, տրանսգենդերների» դեմ)։


This is the first election in Armenia when political parties or their reps are being questioned by civil society activists and some media outlets on their attitude towards LGBT rights as part of election campaign.


Of course, we are not there yet when LGBT Armenians would be perceived as powerful force that could influence the election results. For this we need free and fair election system in place, and much more vocal and open presence of LGBT people in the country. However, this is a step in the right direction.

4 political parties/alliances (out of 9 participating in this parliamentary election) replied to the pre-election survey of the “Partnership for Open Society” initiative: Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian (ORO) alliance; Yelq (“Way Out”) alliance; Free democrats; and ARF Dashnaktsutyun. They all answered ‘Yes’ to the question on whether LGBT people should have the same rights as other citizens. However, I will never trust that ARF Dashnaktsutyun in Armenia genuinely believes in equal rights of all citizens until and unless they come clean re their high level reps support for DIY firebombers. Instead of reprimanding them, those homophobic reps remained on the highest positions in the party's Armenian branch and even got promoted to the ministerial level within the government as part of their alliance with the ruling Republican party.

Of course, it’s one thing to answer ‘Yes’ to a non-binding general question, it’s another thing to find out the substance of their stance.

lgbtnews.am keeps doing great job in challenging MPs, NGOs and other politicians and civil society representatives in Armenia on LGBT rights.

In the context of upcoming parliamentary election, they questioned so far ORO, Yelq and Congress/PPA alliance reps. The most straightforward answer was presented by ORO rep Hovsep Khurshudyan. To note, Hovsep of Zharangutyun (“Heritage”) party consistently (and not only during election period) supported human rights issues in Armenia, including LGBT rights, although it is not clear whether his views represent views of the alliance or rather some in Zharangutyun party. I have no doubts that head of Zharangutyun party Raffi Hovhannisyan genuinely supports LGBT rights too. I will never forget his appearance in front of gay-friendly DIY bar in Yerevan soon after firebombing. However, I have no idea, for instance, what ex-MoD Seyran Ohanyan’s views are regarding this matter.

Congress/PPA alliance (LTP) rep Arman Musinyan did not clearly answer to the similar question although in general terms voiced firmly against discrimination of all citizens.

Questioned more specifically re LGBT rights Yelq rep Alen Simonyan reiterated the position of their alliance about equal rights and human rights for all but resisted attempts to single out any specific group.

Friday, 24 March 2017

US embassy in Yerevan reaffirms its commitment to support rights of LGBT Armenians

Great seeing continuous public support for LGBT rights by the US embassy in Yerevan and personally by US ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills.

*via US Embassy in Yerevan Facebook page


Մարտի 17-ին դեսպան Միլսը հյուրընկալել էր Հայաստանում ԼԳԲՏԻ համայնքի ներկայացուցիչներին՝ քննարկելու մարդու իրավունքների հետ կապված նրանց մտահոգությունները: Դեսպանը նշեց, որ ԱՄՆ դեսպանատունը շարունակում է հավատրիմ մնալ իր հանձնառությանը՝ աջակցել բոլոր հայաստանցիներին պաշտպանելու իրենց իրավունքները:

On March 17, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr. hosted a lunch to discuss human rights concerns in the Armenian LGBTI community. The Ambassador emphasized that the U.S. Embassy respects and remains committed to supporting the rights of all Armenians.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Apricot Groves film: Iranian Armenian trans man returns to Armenia...

I want to see this film. At least based on trailer and reading about the film here and there, seems worth watching. And it's being showcased in a number of film festivals, including LGBT film festivals.

Hope it will be released soon in London or on VOD platform. And importantly in Armenia too.
***
Aram, an Iranian-Armenian trans man living in the U.S. since childhood, returns to Armenia to meet his girlfriend's conservative family. Over the course of the day-long journey, Aram's brother helps him prepare for the meeting, while also coming to terms with Aram's transition. Written and directed by Pouria Heidary Oureh, this quiet and introspective film beautifully illustrates the bittersweetness of reconnecting with a culture that may not be accepting of who you have become.



*Via Outfest (also here)

**Pictures via film's FB page






Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

X Factor Armenia judges: homophobes, closets and… drag


Egor Glumov

X Factor Armenia judge. Works as a presenter at homophobic radio station - radio Van. Self-proclaimed “militant homophobe”. To be more precise: “Christian and militant homophobe”, as he describes himself on a bio page for X Factor Armenia judges.


And here is Egor Glumov in drag, celebrating his workplace birthday. Or shall we say ‘celebrating’ himself?

*source of pictures: Tert.am
***

Garik, aka Ekaterin

X Factor Armenia judge. He is the author of lyrics for Armenia Eurovision entry Aram MP3 song Not Alone. But he is more known in Armenia as Ekaterin for his comedy sketches in drag.


When this blog exposed homophobic statements by Aram MP3, followed by Aram’s apology, Garik was all silent in Copenhagen where the song contest took place. As soon as he arrived back in Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport, he suddenly became all vocal, you know the fake macho-style type vocal, with a series of homophobic outbursts. [There is a saying in Armenian re this type of people: Հայաստանից դուրս կուռկուռի ձագ են դառնում]

And in his capacity of X Factor judge, Garik, aka Ekaterin, on the very day when the world marks IDAHOT, shouted that he is fighting too but on the side of homophobes. (watch this video from 1:17)
***

Andre

X Factor Armenia judge. Andre was the first representative of Armenia in Eurovision in 2006.


On this video (from 26:40) from one of past seasons of X Factor Armenia he burst into homophobic rant when a participant dedicated his performance to IDAHOT. It’s hardly a secret who Andre really likes being with and which clubs he attends when in US or Europe.
***

To sum up:

You do not have to expose details of your private life. You do not have to be gay rights activist. But you don’t need to be a f*cking homophobic bully on TV or elsewhere. And if you do, there will be people out there to expose your hypocrisy.
***

P.S. I wonder if X Factor license that Shant TV - I assume - holds allows such displays of homophobic hatred.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Australian Armenian same-sex marriage supporter Gladys Berejiklian appointed Premier of Australia’s most populous state

*picture - via FAIRFAX/Huffington Post

Australian Armenian Gladys Berejiklian was appointed Premier of Australia’s most populous New South Wales state (with capital Sydney). What makes this appointment a particularly good news for me is her support for marriage equality and LGBT community.

According to ABC, “She is a private woman who supports same-sex marriage, is compassionate towards the plight of refugees and helped sign off on the Government's signature infrastructure projects.”

Interestingly, Australian media specifically mentions that her support for same-sex marriage is “at odds with her Armenian Orthodox Church”.

In an interview with local media in 2015, Gladys Berejiklian said people had strong views about marriage equality but believed most people on the north shore would support a change in the law.
“I get a sense that as far as my electorate’s concerned that the majority — while I do know there are people who don’t support it and I want to acknowledge they’ve got a right to express those views — I would think the silent majority would support it, I personally do,” she said.
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) and Australians for Equality (A4E) today welcomed the support of the new NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for marriage equality.
“We congratulate Gladys Berejiklian on becoming Premier of NSW and thank her for her support for marriage equality and the LGBT community,” Australian Marriage Equality Co-Chair, Alex Greenwich said. 
“Premier Berejiklian joins a growing number of Liberal Party leaders who support marriage equality, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgeman.”

From her bio on Wikipedia: “Berejiklian was born in Sydney, the eldest of three daughters born to Armenian immigrant parents, Krikor and Arsha. Her grandparents were orphaned in the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Berejiklian spoke only Armenian until she was five years old, when she began learning English.”

“Berejiklian became the second woman to hold the office of Premier, after Labor's Kristina Keneally, who served in the position from 2009 to 2011, and the first female Liberal Premier in Australia.”