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Friday, 11 April 2014

A Day in NEW YORK CITY


About Town – A Day in NYC

The old saying, "Hitting two birds with one stone," came to mind when I recently arrived in New York. Without any prior forethought, my arrival in New York coincided with two events that I wanted to participate in.  My trip began, when a friend who has never been there said, "I would love to visit New York."

That was a great excuse for me to get busy and plan a trip. Spring Break sounded like a good time so her daughter who is a sophomore in high school could join us too. I was quick to arrange plane tickets and book a room through a site called Airbnb. However after all that planning, the daughter decided she needed to take a test during that time to transfer to college via early admissions, instead of graduating from high school. Although they opted out, I continued with my plans. 

I landed at JFK at 10:30 p.m..  It was sprinkling, and I remembered that I had forgotten to pack an umbrella. I was in luck, though. The drizzle didn't change into a shower, and the following day it was sunny – in the high forties.

By the time I found my shuttle that I had arranged to pick me up from the airport, and the time it took for the shuttle to get all the other passengers and take them to their destinations, it was one in the morning when I arrived at my place on 87th street.

The next morning, my host gave me directions on how to get around in the City. Two blocks down from 87th street on Columbus Avenue I took the M bus-line to Columbus Circle.  From there I walked down to the Plaza Hotel.

It doesn't matter how many times I have taken that iconic walk from the Plaza Hotel down 5th Ave to Rockefeller Center, it is always an exciting one for me.  I had planned to walk all the way to the 2nd avenue and 34th street where St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral is located and where my friend Hazel Antaramian was going to have a talk. 

I arrived a little before 7 p.m. when she would start her presentation.  I had heard Antaramian before, but I wanted to be there for her support.  About two dozen people showed up.

She began:  “On the evening of March 11, 1949, in Soviet Armenia, in the presence of his wife and his two young boys, Alexander Khatchig Phillian, was arrested by the Soviet secret police.  Then, fifteen-year-old Crosby, remembers the night when the uniformed men arrested his father and his mother cried, “Is this why we came to Armenia?”

Antaramian has compiled stories about Armenian families who after WWII repatriated from different countries in the Diaspora back to Armenia to live in their homeland under Soviet rule.

Through black & white photographs and archival materials she made the little known historical events visible to the audience. She delivered a unique understanding of the cultural shock and the political stress experienced by the "Repatriates" once they began living in a Soviet society — some of whom were exiled to Siberia. The stories went beyond the imaginable.

Antaramian was born in Soviet Armenia. Her parents were among post WWII repatriation surge.  Around 100,000 Armenians were uprooted from all over the world to destitute Soviet Armenia.  The repatriates were headed not to the romanticized, vast ancient land of their forebears, but to a “sovietized” Armenia under Stalin.  

After WWII the Republic of Armenia was in a state of extreme poverty.  By November of 1945, Stalin authorized the return of Armenians to Soviet Armenia with the incentive of bringing in new life in the construction, vitalization, and economic development to a destitute Soviet Republic.  

Armenian nationalistic organizations, political parties, and religious leadership organized efforts of the repatriation.  The Armenian Repatriation Committee stressed the need to nationally support the country of Armenia while downplaying the reality that Armenia was now a Soviet-dominated country.

Listen to Antaramian in her own words: "Only after years of hearing stories did I realize that I was the product of two Armenian Diaspora post-World War II repatriates who were compelled by their parents' emotive sense of "hayrenik" to leave the comfort of their adopted new homes back to Armenia"

During the summer of 2014, Antaramian plans to put together her research and passages from her interviews into a publication. Later in March of 2015 her written work will be presented in a theatrical debut by the University of Fresno.  

After the lecture I took a cab to be present at the closing ceremonies of SR Film Festival at the Tenri Center.  




Second part of my visit to New York City.  



At Tenri Center NYC
After I attended the lecture by Hazel Antaramian at St. Vartan Cathedral I took a taxi to Greenwich Village, NYC to attend the Closing Ceremony of Rated SR Socially Relevant Film Festival New York at the Tenri Cultural Institute.  

Versatility is a good watchword to describe Nora Armani, the founding artistic director of the new Rated SR film festival. With her boundless energy and multifaceted talents as an actress, film producer and curator, Armani has created the Rated SR festival to bring awareness to social issues through the powerful medium of cinema.

The Rated SR Film Festival ran from March 14 to 20, 2014 in New York's Quad Cinema. It provided a platform and an opportunity for 55 films from 18 countries to find their audience. 

While undoubtedly an important step in expanding knowledge and bringing awareness, the Rated SR Film Festival shined the spotlight on emerging filmmakers that tackle tough social and environmental issues and who produce films that tell compelling Socially Relevant stories.

As I arrived to Tenri center, people started to drop in. It didn't take long for the foyer of the Tenri Cultural Center with its white washed, modern and sleek architectural design to fill with people milling about and enjoying the delicious bite-size hors d'oeuvres and drinks that were served.  

Music collided with visual art, when Laurence Goldman entertained the crowd with familiar pieces on his double bass (contrabass). The feeling in the air was of heightened expectation. People were waiting to hear which films became award recipients.  

Her Excellency Romanian Ambassador Simona Miculescu, permanent representative to the UN was the special guest of honor. She presented together with Nora Armani the ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ award in memory of Vanya Exerjian, Nora Armani’s cousin who was victim of a violent attack in Egypt 10 years ago. The exquisite trophy that was designed and donated by renowned metal-ware designer Michael Aram, went to Jessica Vale of Small Small Thing. Co-producer Barnie Jones received the award on behalf of the filmmaker. Hearing the Ambassador speak made me realize how filmmakers bring heightened awareness and shed light on issues that would otherwise remain hidden or obscure to the public. 

In the documentary competition category, an award in the form of a distribution deal from Cinema Libre Studio of Los Angeles, was awarded by Jury member Niki Bhattacharya, to Not Who We Are by Carol Mansour – a documentary about Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The first runner up in this category was Stable Life by Sara Macpherson.



NORA ARMANI in white presenting an award


The Grand Prize of the festival, generously donated by Elliott Kanbar of the Quad Cinema’s QuadFlix Select Program, represents a weeklong release of the winning film. The feature competition category Grand Prize winner was Jessica Vale for Small Small Thing. The first runner up in this category was Lucky Express by Anna Fischer.

The birth of Rated SR Socially Relevant film festival New York was celebrated by the cutting of a special cake. Armani spoke words of gratitude to the festival’s partners, sponsors, the many friends, family, who believed in the importance of this festival, and members of the Rated SR team who volunteered their time and worked very hard to make the festival a reality. And to conclude Armani’s words of deepest gratitude went to the audience members present, “Because without your help and support we cannot have a second year’s festival. And now that the festival exists, it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure it not only survives, but thrives!” said Armani.

It is noteworthy to mention that the international selection of films had a high percentage of Armenian titles, seven in total. These were: Orphans of the Genocide (Bared Maronian), Hamshen Community on the Crossroads of Past and Present (Lusine Sahakyan), If Only Everyone (Natalya Belyauskene), Bavakan (Adrineh Gregorian), Armenian Activists Now (Robert Davidian), Later than Usual (David Hovan) and Early Moring (Harlan Bosmajian).

Many filmmakers had come from far away to be part of the festival. Among award recipients, I met Linda Niccol who had made the journey from New Zealand. She won an award for a screenplay she wrote about a teenage girl with Down Syndrome.  

Mingling with film-makers and the intellectual crowd of New York made me feel that I was a "New Yorker." Across from Tenri center, at Quad Cinema there was a late night screening of the winning documentary and the winning feature film. I was too tired and jet-lagged to stay up and watch the movies. I took advantage of the pleasant weather, and walked the few blocks to the subway station and headed to where I was staying. Arguably the event left me with great vibrations and raw materials to write about. 



1 comment:

  1. Fascinating recognition of the Armenian diaspora's cultural influence. I can't help think of the thousands of refugees who at the moment are flooding Europe from Syria, Africa, Asia.

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