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."

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