Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yerek Yereko (Three Evenings)

Yerek Yereko (Three Evenings) is an independent film from Arshak Amirbekyan, and it held its World Premiere in Los Angeles on June 9, 2010. Now, it’s scheduled to screen at the Arpa International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, and I wonder if my fellow brothers and sisters will show up this time, because the theater was awfully empty several months ago.

Yerek Yereko is not your typical feature film. I was surprised to find out its running time was only 64 minutes – that’s either excellent storytelling or an extremely repetitive short film. In addition, the film was produced with a consumer camera (HDV) with a budget of $2,500. If you’re still not convinced, it is also a period piece set in the 1960s.

In the film, a lonely man (Georgi Amirago) spends his days writing his doctoral thesis, and spends his days behind his typewriter in the midst of parties and celebrations that often occur in the apartment below his. On a particular evening, he sees a young woman (Kristina Zaminyan) standing outside his window, and discovers that she has been following her husband, who seems to be having an affair with a woman from his building. In their second meeting, the man finds the young woman waiting outside once again; this time, in the rain. They have a brief conversation, until she agrees to come inside for a cup of tea. It is there we discover that he is studying to become a scientist, and that she is married with three children, uncertain of where her life is headed. In her fragile position, she confides in him and tells him how she really feels, as she reveals her vulnerabilities and fears about life and marriage. Suddenly, she decides to leave, despite that it is still raining – it is only right to do so.

I realized by this point of the film that these characters had not introduced themselves to each other, or to the audience, for that matter. In a sense, this added a layer of a dreamlike quality between them and contributed to the atmosphere of the film. On the following day, the young woman decides to drop in unexpectedly. It’s a change of pace for the story because it is the first time she has taken the initiative. They drink beer, eat sandwiches, and laugh – allowing their friendship to form, as they grow closer. They even begin dancing – at first, it’s upbeat and fun to see them break free, and later, it's a slow dance. Their evening shifts into something much more intimate, as their relationship begins to evolve. This doesn't establish into a feeling of romance, but rather companionship. She's there for him, a lonely fool, and he's there for her, a lady in distress.

I don't want to go any further, but this is not a film of expectations. Instead, it's about finding a friend and establishing a compassionate relationship. It's an intimate film that deals with companionship, rather than sexual desires. In the end, there is a feeling of lost love, even though that love is never established in the conventional sense.

Yerek Yereko was adapted from a short story that the filmmaker’s father had originally written. It’s quiet, atmospheric, and gives way to the emotions of the leads, who never let their vulnerabilities steer them away. Yerek Yereko is a rare film that provides us with a sense of our culture. It is a film that could have been produced decades ago, when Italian neorealism films were presenting us with a look at life after the war. In a similar sense, Mr. Amirbekyan presents us with a film that deals with realism. It’s a beautiful film that speaks to our hearts and allows us a look at a hopeless love story.

Yerek Yereko has its share of flaws, from its sound design to its screen direction. In a sense, I was able to look past all of this - and I hope others will too – and focus on the intentions of the filmmaker, the overall story that he has presented for us. I was drawn to the screen and fell in love with the characters in the film. I felt proud, as I listened to the actors speak Armenian, and later read the credits in my mother tongue. I only wish there were more of us in attendance at the screening that evening, but perhaps, they will show up another evening.

Yerek Yereko is scheduled to screen on September 18 at the Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival and on September 25 at the Arpa International Film Festival. I am currently in talks with the filmmaker to help bring the film to more screens in Los Angeles for the Armenian community.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'll see you again... this side or the other.

In 2007, Ben Affleck made his very impressive directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone (2007), which starred his younger brother, Casey Affleck, in a riveting performance. Now, it's three years later and he is three days away from his sophomore directorial debut with The Town (2010), which stars Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall… and Ben Affleck, himself. I had the pleasure of seeing The Town six months ago at an advance screening.

The Town revolves around the lives of four bank robbers from Charlestown, Massachusetts. Charlestown is a one square mile neighborhood in Boston and known for having the highest number of bank and armored car robberies anywhere in the United States. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) leads his boys and stays on top of their excessive behaviors, including his short-tempered best friend, Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), who is the closest thing to a brother that Doug has. Krista (Blake Lively) is Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex-girlfriend, who has a 19-month old baby that she believes belongs to Doug.

Doug has followed in his father’s criminal footsteps, but has been contemplating leaving his lifestyle behind. In their last job, however, Jem takes Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager, as hostage and complicates Doug’s plans. Jem, who has a temper like no other and is fresh out of prison after serving nine years for manslaughter, decides to track Claire down to ensure that she did not see anything during the robbery. Doug asks to take over the case, knowing Jem’s unstable state of mind, and finds himself falling in love with her. This begins complicating their lives because as Doug falls in love with Claire, the bank manager, she is at the same time being questioned by Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) of the FBI.

It’s been done countless times before, but the approach in this film is both exciting and daring. It’s an authentic and genuine look, because there is a blurred line between who is the hero and villain of the film. Sure, these kids are cut from the same cloth as some of the characters from The Departed (2006), but it’s their no-bullshit approach that grounds their action in realism. In fact, this is how I imagine banks are robbed – with force.

Jeremy Renner is the star of the film, presenting us with an impressive performance from start to finish, as he transforms into a Boston criminal with a drive for disaster. It’s an excellent departure the young actor, who becomes unrecognizable from all his previous roles. Rebecca Hall, however, gives a rather dry performance. It’s only with the help of her surrounding actors that her scenes are bearable to watch – she simply exists in the story as a romantic interest, but there’s nothing worth connecting with on emotional terms. Blake Lively is quite captivating in her performance as she plays against type in a role that we have never previously seen her in. Krista is something like a hooker, a role that demands a talented actress to begin with.

The Town takes a realistic approach to depict the grittiness of bank robbers. It's packed with action, but it's also handed effectively in the hands of Ben Affleck. It's never overwhelming or tiresome, and continuously serves to add interest and thrill to the plot of the film. It’s the believable approach of the film that has left an impression on me after six months of seeing the film.

It's hard not to mention Academy Award contenders because of its release for this Fall. In actuality, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively deserve a nomination each for their respective performances. They both play characters we haven’t seen them take on before, and they do it quite incredibly and memorably. I personally believe this is Jeremy Renner at his finest, and possibly the best performance of the year, thus far. Ben Affleck, however, proves that he can tell stories behind the camera and I look forward to another film. This time, I know what's in store for us.

The Town is scheduled for release on September 17, 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amorosa (World Premiere)

In March 2009, I decided to volunteer for the Burbank International Film Festival at Woodbury University. I was extremely excited with this opportunity because it was their first annual film festival and it was all taking place in my hometown. I had the pleasure of working with some incredible people, including students, filmmakers and festival coordinators. I was also given a “Volunteer” badge, but was envious of those individuals who received a “Filmmaker” badge.

I was in post-production with my short film, Amorosa (2010), at this time and was in the process of applying to film school. I felt like I was on the outside, looking in, and wanted to be a part of the film festival as a filmmaker, instead of a volunteer. I told myself I would submit my film the following year and come back as a filmmaker. I suppose dreams do come true, because that is exactly what happened.

I submitted my film earlier this year and received a phone call in June from one of the film festival coordinators. I was told that my film was chosen as an Official Selection for the Burbank International Film Festival and I would be receiving my laurels soon. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe I would be receiving a “Filmmaker” badge this year.

I couldn’t have been more nervous as this week approached. On September 10, Mary and I were invited to the Opening Ceremony of the film festival, where filmmakers from around the world had the chance of meeting. I didn’t have a “Filmmaker” badge, because this year, they were replaced with “Official Selection” badges. I believe that’s quite remarkable and I wore it across my neck, proudly. I felt like I had finally accomplished one of my goals. I was in another world during the ceremony, as lights and cameras surrounded us both. In fact, we received over half a dozen compliments on our clothing (we were matching) and we were even crowned “Best Dressed” by a festival coordinator.

I felt like all eyes were on us, as the compliments kept pouring in from strangers around us. There was another dream of ours coming true as we walked down the red carpet and had our photographs taken, from the same group of photographers who worked at the Emmys this year. Inside, Mary and I were interviewed on camera about our short film and the festival itself. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening.

On September 11, Amorosa held its World Premiere at AMC 6 in Burbank at 2pm. This is a theater we commonly watch films, and to have my first film play on the big screen there is nothing short of amazing. I feel like everything happened in the blink of an eye. I simply remember a bunch of my family and friends there, supporting me and cheering me on. In the end, it was a unique and memorable experience to share my film with my family and friends, as well as strangers. It’s funny because it helps remind me why I make films to begin with – to share them with the people I love.

If nothing else matters in this world, family does. It’s only them I want to see when I look around a theater, because it’s only them who matter. I love every person who was able to share this memorable event with us. I accomplished a dream of mine this year, to have my short film accepted at the Burbank International Film Festival, the same festival where I volunteered a year ago. I have new dreams now, different dreams, and I’ll keep fighting until I have them realized as well.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cinema 101, Professor Karaoghlanian

If I was teaching a course on the history of motion pictures, what would the class be like? I'm betting it would be lots of fun, with discussions that go back and forth, as well all contribute to the learning environment of the class. In fact, I might even let the kids call me by my first name, just because my last name is too hard to pronounce. If I was up there teaching, however, this is an idea of what the class would look like...

Week One Introduction, Early Cinema

In the first class, there would be an introduction and overview of the beginning stages of cinema, as well as an emphasis on Thomas Edison, the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, and D.W. Griffith.

Week Two Silent Cinema

I believe Silent Cinema was a magical time when audiences allowed stories to grab them and take them on a ride! In fact, film lovers had a hard time letting go of silent films after sound was introduced.

Screening: The General (1926), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), and City Lights (1931)

Week Three Soviet Montage

If there's something audiences take for granted, it's the editing of a film. In Russian Cinema, several notable filmmakers revolutionized editing techniques, and their discoveries are both a surprise and an adventure.

Screenings: Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Week Four The Coming of Sound, German Expressionism

What are the first words that were ever said on the big screen? In this week's class, it's the coming of sound and students will be able to hear these words for themselves. In addition, we will also take a dark look inside the films of German Expressionism.

Screening: The Jazz Singer (1927) and M (1931)

Week Five Studio Era, The Big 5, The Little 3

What does MGM stand for? Who were the Warner Bros.? In this week's class, we will learn about the studios and their function in this time period.

Screening: Citizen Kane (1941) and Casablanca (1942)

Week Six Italian neorealism

World War II was a tough time for the entire world, but it also shaped some of the films from this timer period. In fact, come see my favorite film and learn a little bit of the history behind this time period.

Screening: Ladri di biciclette (1948)

Week Seven Golden Age of Hollywood

In the seventh class, we will take a close look at Hollywood and its function in the films from this time period. It's an exciting time, as we begin exploring Classical Hollywood.

What is Classical Hollywood? In this week's class, we will understand what this city is made of, as we learn about the ins and outs of a town we all love.

Screening: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Week Eight Cinemascope, Technicolor

It's a fantastic world of color, as we sing and dance and laugh. It's without a doubt the most fun a film can provide!

Screening: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Week Nine Hollywood Ending

It's the end of the studio era, as well as the introduction of television, which posed a threat to the film industry.

Screening: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Week Ten French New Wave

It's time to see how the French changed all the rules. It's a complete different approach to what we have seen thus far, and will allow the class to fall in love and witness how cinema was revolutionized.

Screening: Breathless (1960)

Week Eleven New Hollywood

In New Hollywood, the camera left the studio and was on the road, filmmaking out of the studio and on location. It was an exciting time period, which was our first step in changing cinema.

Screening: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Week Twelve Postmodernism, Blockbusters

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas introduced us to the "blockbuster" and cinema was forever changed. It's an introduction to special effects and high concept films, as well as sequels and franchises.

Screening: Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977)

Week Thirteen New Technologies, Entertainment Conglomerates

In an ever-changing medium, see how new technologies and media began affecting our films, for better or for worse.

Screening: Annie Hall (1977)

Week Fourteen Auteur Filmmakers

Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Martin Scorsese are all considered auteur filmmakers. In this week's class, we begin understanding this concept, as well as the role of the director.

Screening: Raging Bull (1980)

Week Fifteen Conclusion, Independent Filmmaking, Digital Cinema

In the last class, we are presented with a look at independent filmmaking, an exciting opportunity for filmmakers to create films on their own, without the need of a studio. In addition, we begin asking questions about where the film industry is going next, as we understand the function of digital cinema and its threat to cinema.

Screening: Pulp Fiction (1994)

If this fits the bill, please register on time because classes fill up! This does not include the required papers and exams, which will be both comprehensive and difficult. Remember, all films screened will be film prints to ensure the best theatrical experience. Oh, and check back soon for details on other classes I plan on teaching!