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Old Istanbul at the Golden Apricot Film Festival

Old Istanbul at the Golden Apricot Film Festival
Bezjian while filming “I Left My Shoes in Istanbul.”
Bezjian while filming “I Left My Shoes in Istanbul.”

“My film has no messages, only questions that beg for answers,” an honest director divulges. His words do not exude the typical slick-oil salesman persona that accompanies many movie ensembles who try to pitch their work as greater-than-life itself. Nigol Bezjian, the Beirut-based director and writer of several films, has released his latest documentary film, “I Left My Shoes in Istanbul,” with the hope that the world learns something new about his Armenian heritage.

The documentary film reveals the “literary, social, and artistic [Armenian] history from the 1850’s to the present which flourished in Istanbul until 1915 and continues in a tragic form today,” explained Bezjian, in an interview with the Weekly. Although it had no script, the idea of where the film was to go was clear for the moviemaker from the onset.

The theme of constant movement and relocation that unifies most of his work was central to depicting the very essence of this film, which premiered at the 9th Annual Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Yerevan on July 12. It has yet to debut in Turkey, although Bezjian remains hopeful that the Armenian community there will push for its release. “I do hope that Turks can see the Istanbul that they do not know. The film depicts the Istanbul that Orhan Pamuk doesn’t know or did not include in his book.”

Bezjian describes his need for viewers to understand that Istanbul is no less an Armenian city than it is Turkish or Greek, an idea that many do not even consider. “It is the city that we [Armenians] somehow forgot. We talk about Ani, but not about Istanbul,” he said.

He is hopeful for the success of Armenian cinematography, although he acknowledges the struggles it has experienced in the past. “There are many reasons why Armenians have not had the same success as other prominent minorities, such as Jews, in the realm of cinema. Foremost is the fact that they do not have an elaborate tradition in long form narrative fiction in the Western tradition. They are also very introverted, conservative, and family-oriented, so they shy away from telling their stories and showing their characters. This does not allow the culture to be free for interpretation and manipulation. In addition, Armenians have not had a developed cultural economy where the financiers and investors could have played an important role in producing large-scale popular culture.” These reasons aside, progress continues in the Armenian community through projects by filmmakers and actors, all over the world.

Bezjian is a filmmaker and TV producer from the Middle East with an MFA in cinema from UCLA. He wrote and directed the feature film “Chickpeas,” as well as several experimental documentaries, and the full-length film “Muron.”

When asked about future projects, Bezjian wittily replied, “I always have projects in mind, but I do not like to speak about any before they see the light. It is like talking about a baby before even having the pregnant mother.”

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