“Will you go to POM with me?”
The fourth annual Pomegranate Film Festival to kick off in Toronto
Published: Saturday September 12, 2009
Toronto - A few years ago, a group of young professionals in Toronto had a vision that turned out to be inspirational. By creating a venue for discourse through the very powerful medium of film, they have become the purveyors in the dissemination of information about all things Armenian.
The Pomegranate Film Festival (PFF) presents films made by and about Armenians. The festival's mission is to promote and foster Armenian culture, to provide a forum for Armenian film makers to network and interact with each other and to encourage young film makers. This year's festival will take place on September 25-27 at the Armenian Youth Center in Toronto. Organizers expect to attract over 2,500 people to the three-day event.
After reviewing scores of new submissions, festival organizers have put together a very diverse program this year that promises to be rewarding for avid movie goers. PFF will be presenting over 20 exciting films representing a wide range of genres including feature, documentary, psychological thriller, romance, drama and comedy.
The Pomegranate Film Festival has widened its appeal and has begun garnering international attention with growing submissions from film maker's right across the globe. The festival has also attracted high-profile jury members, including Executive Producer of English Programming at the National Film Board of Canada Sylva Basmajian and Norayr Kasper.
How it all began
Several members of the Pomegranate Film Festival's committee sat down with the Armenian Reporter to talk about its roots, this year's festival and their aspirations for the future of the festival.
Years ago, the Hamazkayin Cultural Association of Toronto had a film committee that was showcasing films about or made by Armenians every four to five months to sold-out audiences. Realizing that there was the potential to build upon this interest and enthusiasm, a group of young Armenian professionals came together to discuss the possibility of organizing a film festival, Maral Kirijian, the co-chair of the Pomegranate Film Festival committee explained.
The inaugural meeting took place in 2005. In June 2006 the committee began working with the intention of launching the festival right after the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place every September. In a matter of a few short months, the committee launched the Pomegranate in September 2006 to great success. Now in its fourth year, the festival takes place every last weekend of September.
Anoush Thorose, the chair of the PFF committee said that when the festival was launched, there was tremendous excitement and buzz. Today it has become one of the community's most pivotal and successful events.
The 2006 PFF showcased 13 films - ten documentaries from seven different countries, three of which were produced in Canada and eight of these films made their Canadian premieres during the festival. The event drew over 1500 spectators and raised over $10,000 in sponsorship.
In 2007, the festival drew over 2000 people, featured films in nine different languages from around the globe and showcased 25 films. Sixteen films made their Canadian premieres, twelve of which made their North American.
The Pomegranate in 2008 featured groundbreaking films that initiated thought-provoking cross-cultural discourse. Thirty films from 11 different countries boasting seven features, 13 documentaries and 16 short films were showcased over the course of the festival, which attracted over 2000 spectators and raised over $30,000 in sponsorships.
"Within the Turkish community there are academics who are acknowledging the Armenian Genocide," explains Anoush Thorose about a movie that was showcased at the 2008 Pomegranate. A 42-minute documentary called "Whispering Memories," directed by Mehmet Binay and produced by Caner Alper tells the story of a rural wedding in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey. The film explores the story of those Armenians who stayed after the genocide of 1915 and silently converted to Islam; what it really does is help build bridges. This kind of forum and dialogue that the Pomegranate is offering to film makers speaks to the unique and important role that it plays.
Opening night with Modern Love
Two movies will be showcased on opening night of the Pomegranate this year. The first is a romantic comedy entitled, "Modern Love," directed by French film maker Stephane Kazandjian. The movie explores the lives of several couples living their own brand of romance, each with their distinctive complications. The film follows the journeys of a single woman who has given up on love; two different people with nothing but their love for one another; and the trials and tribulations of a man with his former lover.
The second feature, "The Ghost" by Armenian-Russian director Karen Oganesyan is a psychological thriller that promises to leave you on the edge of your seat. The story is about the criminal underground and the literary world. Anton, an author with an incurable case of writer's block, finds the most unlikely inspiration for his next novel - a hit man. Anton is later approached by the killer who agrees to share the sordid details of his professional life if Anton agrees to hide the mysterious assassin played by Vladimir Mashkov. Their lives become intertwined and the author gets much more than he bargained for when it turns out his muse has an agenda of his own. Anton is slowly drawn deeper into this criminal world, all the while completely oblivious to the fact that his muse is scheming to frame him for murder.
The critically acclaimed film "Autumn" by Hamshen-Armenian Ozcan Alper, which won a special award and recognition at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan will also be showcased at the Pomegranate this year. The film resonated with actress Arsinee Khanjian while she was at the Golden Apricot and she will be presenting "Autumn" at the Pomegranate this year. The movie depicts the tale of a man named Yusuf, sentenced to prison in 1997 as a university student at the age of 22, who is released 10 years later. When he returns to his village in the Black Sea region, he finds that his life as he once knew it no longer exists. He is greeted by his elderly mother, the only family he has left. As autumn slowly gives way to winter, Yusuf meets a beautiful Georgian working girl named Eka. It seems love is destined to fail right from the start for these two people from different worlds. Even so, they can't stay apart and their love becomes a final desperate attempt to grasp life and escape their own solitude. Prior to the screening of "Autumn" a short documentary about the Hamshens entitled "Vova" will be shown.
Other films that will be presented at the Pomegranate include "Detached," which will be making its Canadian premiere at the festival by Chris Bessounian who spins a vivid portrayal of a man who falls victim to his own mistakes. Bessounian's award-winning short film "The Kolaborator," will also be making its premiere at the Pomegranate. The short is about a young soccer player named Goran, who is forced to become a soldier during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. "The Kolaborator" has received many accolades since its release including the Director's Choice Award at the Sedona International Film Festival.
The North American premiere of Hovhannes Galstyan's movie "Bonded Parallels" will also take place during the festival.
Working collectively for a vision
The organizers of the Pomegranate Film Festival work on a volunteer-basis. They contribute their time, energy and vision to a festival, which helps to bring together Armenian talent in film and cinema. They are also a socially conscious group of young professionals who have gone "green." Maral Kirijian explained that in 2007, "the festival reduced its carbon footprint by ‘Going Green.'" The committee accomplished this by reducing waste and using only recycled materials and featuring short-films depicting the accomplishment of the Armenia Tree Project. "To offset the release of carbon into the atmosphere as a result of directors and producers that were flown in to Toronto for the festival, we made a contribution to the Armenia Tree Project," Maral said.
Not only have they gone green, but the festival organizers established the PomGrant Bursary, which supports aspiring film directors. "Any money we make, we give it away to young film makers," Anoush Thorose said. Past recipients include directors from Armenia, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto natives Shahe Boghossian, Noura Kevorkian as well as award-winning director Garine Torossian.