ARPA: A Local Film Festival with Global Aspirations

by Ersi Danou November 18, 2019
Actor Eric Roberts at ARPA Festival 2019

Eric Roberts at ARPA Festival 2019.

Though established and led by a team of Armenian Americans in Los Angeles, the ARPA International Film Festival treasures the second word of its name. For 22 years now, the festival has brought films to Los Angeles from various parts of the world with a focus on social justice. But the issues often tackled by ARPA films – “war, genocide, diaspora, dual identities, exile and multiculturalism” – are inevitably associated with the history of the local community of Armenians, the largest outside Armenia, whose first wave of immigrants to this country began in the mid 1910s, when Armenians fled Turkish aggression during the violent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and other turmoil in the Middle East caused more Armenians to emigrate to the States from Lebanon, Iran, and Egypt, while the 1980s were marked by another significant exodus of Russian Armenians.

Yet, despite its grand aspirations and longevity, ARPA has remained a modest annual event. This year it relocated from the Egyptian Theatre to The American Legion Hollywood Post 43 Theater, the gorgeously renovated art-deco venue on Highland Avenue in Hollywood. The blue and red decor along with the flags of the WWII American Allies amidst modern spaces and an ample but cozy red-colored screening room of nearly 500 seats somehow seemed appropriate for hosting the 22nd festival edition. Here memories of war, exile, and survival were not just put on the screen but built in the walls, it seemed, by the figurative merging of two cultures: The Armenian and the American.

The three-day event opened on November 8, 2019, with the world premiere of Sand and Fire, an epic Moroccan/Italian production about a 19th century conflict between moderate and extreme Islamic groups. A coming-of-age story, Coming Home, and Lorik, a fairy tale about an aging actor with supernatural powers, both from Armenia, completed the list of fiction features.

It is no wonder that ARPA is sensitive to the lure of documentaries since it is in that format that social and historical true stories often unfold. The burning issue of the Armenian genocide in 1915 by the Ottoman rule appears in various guises in 3 out of 6 documentaries – The Stateless Diplomat, 100 Years from Home, and The Hidden Map, all of which attracted full houses. A selection of short films and music videos, as well as an awards ceremony on Sunday night, November 10 complete the full program.

The festival has a long history of honoring Hollywood professionals and acknowledging distinguished Armenian-American guests, such as producers Hank Moonjean and Howard Kazanjian, and director Atom Egoyan. The programming team picked four Hollywood professionals as this year’s honorees – producer Albert S. Ruddy, director Joe Berlinger, and actors Sally Kirkland and Eric Roberts.

The lack of ethnic centralization frees the festival team and greatly expands the scope of this small festival; however, it also presents the challenge of having to narrow down a disproportionately wide field of interest. Finally, ARPA brings together the still Armenian community of Los Angeles, but retains a thematic rather than ethnic identity.