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Golden Apricot Festival Aims To Put Armenia Back On The Map

French actress Fanny Ardant (center) with Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (right) and Culture Minister Hasmik Poghosian at the opening ceremony of the Golden Apricot international film festival on July 10.
YEREVAN -- Armenian's eighth annual Golden Apricot international film festival opened this week and is proving a bigger draw than ever.

Named in honor of Armenia's unofficial national fruit, the festival is the brainchild of noted filmmaker Harutiun Khachatryan, who has nurtured it from its first edition in 2004 to the present day. Now it is a highlight of the country's cultural calendar and one of the few events capable of drawing international artistic attention to Yerevan.

Dutch film critic Peter van Bueren is attending the festival, which he said featured a surprisingly large amount of high-quality work for such a relatively low-budget event.

"The quality of the international competition is very high," Van Bueren said. "If you compare the quality of this competition's films with, let's say, the quality of films at competitions in Eastern Europe or international film festivals elsewhere, you can say with confidence that this film festival is much, much better. There are no bad films here."

He added that some of the nearly 150 films from 45 countries being presented this year had already won prizes at other festivals.

'Crossroads Of Cultures And Civilizations'

Golden Apricot's geography ranges from Russia and Kazakhstan to the United States and Canada, from France and Portugal to China, Thailand, and Australia. Armenia's neighbors Turkey, Iran, and Georgia are also featured.

The festival kicked off on July 10 with "Certified Copy," a joint French-Italian production by famed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. It closes with the awarding of jury prizes on July 17.

This year's official theme is "Crossroads of Cultures and Civilizations," and organizers say it embodies the idea of "a global human landscape in the process of transformation and the challenges such transformations pose to human beings."

The guest of honor this year is revered French actress Fanny Ardant, who is screening two works that she directed. Many Armenians believe Ardant has Armenian roots, but she deflected questions about this at a gala July 10 press conference opening the event, saying, "The extent to which I am Armenian is a secret of my family."

The purpose of the festival is to foster Armenia's long-standing cinematographic traditions, which fell into decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its goal is to put the land of Sergei Parajanov and other Armenian film pioneers back onto the global cinema map and to restore its regional prominence.

But organizers are also reaching out for a broad local audience as well. Tickets for all screenings are priced affordably and the festival has been energetically promoted for weeks.

One Yerevan woman spoke to RFE/RL's Armenian Service as she was leaving a festival screening and praised the event for raising the public's aesthetic awareness.

"You can see genuine cinema and understand what cinematography is," she said. "There has been no cinema in Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union."

The Golden Apricot festival aims to change that.