Michael Goorjian: Filming “Amerikasti”, a return to cinema in Armenia

It took us a long time to find the right title for the film. I originally titled it “The New Armenian”, inspired by William Saroyan’s quote about how every time two Armenians meet, a new Armenia is born. Conceptually, this title works and reflects the dynamic between the two main characters of the film. However, as you pointed out to me, out of context, “The New Armenian” has another meaning somewhat akin to “Nouveau Riche”. On top of that, almost everyone who read the script felt that the title just didn’t capture the essence of the film. So during the whole filming (which because of the pandemic lasted almost five months), everyone pitched alternative titles, all kinds of things. Eventually, after a tough week of filming, Rodin, our first camera assistant suggested “Amerikatsi”, which is what the main character is often referred to in the film. It just seemed to stick. And surprisingly, non-Armenians seem to enjoy it as much as Armenians.

In your interview with Asbarez Armenian Daily in 1994, you said: “I think for anyone who creates something, whether in writing or in film, the most powerful thing they can do is something that is personal and dates from their own history. .” So as we can see, your film, dedicated to the memory of your grandfather, is also somehow linked to your family history.

Indirectly. My grandfather was not part of the repatriation movement after WWII, however, he was, like the main character, a genocide survivor who escaped alone as a child and traveled to America . What I said in 1994, I still think is true, but I think I would add to it by saying that, for me, the most powerful form of storytelling is searching for truth that lies deeper than the facts. “Amerikatsi” is by no means a historical account of a single person’s experience. Yes, we have done our best to take care of as many historical details as possible, to create an authentic representation of Soviet Armenia. But the story we tell is an amalgamation of hundreds and hundreds of stories. So, yes, my grandfather, Manoog Goorjian, is in this film, his essence is in my performance as Charlie Bakhchinian. But also the father of the Spanish-Armenian actor Hovik Keuchkerian can be seen in this film through his interpretation of Tigran. Details of the many stories we heard about those repatriated to Armenia are in the film, along with details from the perspective of native Soviet Armenians. Everyone who works on the film has contributed to the story in this way, which I think gives our film a greater richness than if the story just came from me.

Michael Goorjian (Shant Sevag Photo)

The Armenian artists of the diaspora are the most concerned with the subject of the genocide, which is natural since they are the result of it. In our 2006 interview, you said, “I don’t necessarily want to make a film about Armenia, Armenian history and the Genocide. I would prefer to make a film that was made with Armenians or that just happened in Armenia. So things happened like that, and although in your film there is a reference to the genocide, the main emphasis is on the Soviet-Armenian reality of the late 1940s and early 1950s. t is very welcoming to make a film on the theme of repatriation, so far little taken into account in the cinema.

I think it is extremely important to make films about the genocide, and I applaud filmmakers brave enough to take on this task. As a filmmaker, I felt I could better serve my Armenian heritage by focusing on other aspects of our history and culture. I also just wanted to make an Armenian film that would be a joy to watch, and hopeful, and most importantly, something that non-Armenians could relate to. Knowing personally how hard it is to drag non-Armenian friends into a Genocide film, and I thought maybe I could make a film that would be a little easier for the proud Armenian grandmothers of ‘get them odar neighbors to watch. I remember one of the most encouraging comments I received about the script when I first wrote it was from a fellow filmmaker who said, “You know, your story is not only for Armenians, it is a universal story, everyone will relate to it. this.”

You didn’t do a joint project, as one might expect, but an Armenian project with an international cast and crew. Watching the filming, I was very impressed by the great professionalism of all the participants. Please tell us about them.