Ninety Minutes of Naked Truth:
London Film Premiere of Orphans of the Genocide
On October 31st 2015, Hamazgayin Cultural Society, Armenian Relief Society and the Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration Committee UK presented the full length documentary film “Orphans of the Genocide” by Emmy Award winning director Bared Maronian in the packed Navasartian Hall in London.
Bared Maronian had arrived from Florida for this special occasion to present his film and to answer the questions of the spectators. We took this unique opportunity to meet the Armenian director and to enquire about his well-documented, emotional encounter of 150,000 Armenian children orphaned during the first Genocide of the Twentieth Century.
Interview by Hasmik Harutunyan, Photos by Bardig Kouyoumdjian:
Hasmik: Bared, congratulations for your impressive documentary – ninety minutes is quite long for a documentary film, yet those minutes flied quite rapidly. We have just witnessed some of the most heart-breaking stories of 1915: the untold stories of children, innocent children, caught in deportation, starvation, abuse and mass killings, as well as stories of few “lucky” ones who survived the Genocide. How was the idea of this movie born in the first place?
Bared: The inspiration for Orphans of the Genocide came from an article by Robert Fisk published in the Independent newspaper, entitled “Living Proof of the Armenian Genocide”. Mr Fisk’s article outlined the details of “Turkification” process of 200 Kurdish and 1,000 Armenian children in an orphanage. I thought the story of those 1,200 children deserved attention, so we embarked on producing a film not only about these 1,200 children, but hundreds and thousands of Armenian children who were highly impacted by the Genocide. The focal point of the film is Antoura Orphanage in Lebanon, mentioned in Mr. Fisk’s article, which was built under the orders of Jemal Pasha, one of the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide. In this hostile orphanage Armenian orphans were stripped of their names, identity, origin and religion and forced to become Turks.
Hasmik: After watching the film, it is apparent that you have done extensive research in order to find historic evidence about those children orphaned some hundred years ago; what challenges and hurdles did you encounter in this arduous process?
Bared: The main challenge of this project was to gather information about the orphans of the Genocide as it was an uncharted territory. There were no ready-made comprehensive studies on the orphans – fragments of information were scattered like thousands of pieces of a puzzle; not even in one “box” as you might expect, but in hundreds of “boxes” in different locations…So, it was truly a daunting task to locate those “boxes” around the world and to find the relevant pieces to complete our puzzle. Our work was mostly primary research and not just secondary research – we collaborated with acclaimed researchers from Universities and other organisations, but equally with individuals, the last surviving orphans and their families in order to gather evidence. That is why it took us three and half years to complete Orphans of the Genocide.
Hasmik: In your presentation tonight you mentioned, that your film was presented in several International Film Festivals, including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, International Film Festival in Toronto, in the upcoming International Film Festival in Paris and many others across USA and Europe…
Bared: I’m very happy for the success of the documentary, it has been broadcasted on several TV channels across USA. Besides two Emmy nominations, Orphans of the Genocide has been selected by a number of film festivals, has won awards, viewed in numerous cities around the world, translated to at least 6 languages and the journey still continues. The film has been shown in more than 10 universities, including University of California in Berkeley, New York University, University of Córdoba in Argentina and others. So far the film has reached over 50.6 million households.
Hasmik: I am particularly pleased that you are trying to reach out to International, non-Armenian audiences around the world, including universities, international organisations and the new generation of viewers. There is still so much ignorance around the world about those dark pages of the Armenian history, and so much work yet to be accomplished in order to inform, educate, enlighten the public on this subject…
Bared: Our aim is to distribute DVD copies of Orphans of the Genocide to as many libraries as possible free of charge. Our ultimate goal is to increase the awareness of human rights violations, awareness of the Genocide worldwide, so that we can learn lessons from the past and that such tragedies never occur in the future. Another major challenge that we face in our projects is the funding. Our projects are not-for-profit and they are solely financed by individual donations and private sponsors. We have been blessed so far to find enthusiastic supporters for our projects.
Hasmik: Can you tell a little bit more about your personal journey, what has inspired you to become film director?
Bared: I was born in Beirut and I hold a BA in Political Science from Haigazian University in Beirut. While growing up, I had deep interest in arts, specifically in theatre, photography and music. Because of the war in Lebanon my family immigrated to the USA and settled in Florida. In the late eighties I attended a TV/Film production school in Florida and worked for the PBS television network for over 20 years, where I won regional Emmy Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Hasmik: What can you tell about your cinematographic projects and Armenoid Production Company, what are the objectives of its creative and artistic endeavours?
Bared: During my time at PBS, I have worked on a number of local, regional and national TV programming, including documentaries in English and Spanish, covered live concerts, news and business shows. In 2006 I founded Armenoid Team, a subsidiary of Armenoid Productions Inc. in Florida that primarily focuses on documentary films dealing with historical and human rights issues. Our team consists of individuals who are experienced professionals in the field of film and TV production and more importantly, who have interest in working on human rights issues. Besides Orphans of the Genocide, we have produced a short experimental film on Hrant Dink and great Armenian composer Komitas.
Hasmik: What about your future projects, what are you working on nowadays and when will your new projects become available for the wider audiences in the USA and across the world?
Bared: Our current project is once again a full length documentary called Women of 1915 and will be released in the middle of 2016. It is about the plight and resilience of the Armenian women during the Genocide as well as all those non-Armenian women who came to the rescue of their Armenian sisters. This project, like Orphans of the Genocide, is not-for-profit, so we certainly need funding. The main supporter of this film is one of the oldest women’s organizations in America, Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA. However, we still need additional contributions to complete the project and distribute the film, make it available to as many universities, libraries, educational and international organisations as possible.
The journey of Orphans of the Genocide across continents continues: premieres, festivals, TV broadcasting and cinema screenings worldwide. If interested to learn more about this film or other projects from award-winning director Bared Maronian, follow Orphans of the Genocide on Facebook or visit Mr. Bared Maronian’s production company website at: www.armenoidteam.com
Hasmik Harutunyan, freelance reporter,
for the ACC UK.