Filmmaker Bared Maronian is particularly known to the Armenian audience with his documentary film Orphans of the Genocide. The film was screened within Golden Apricot Film Festival in 2014. One year later on 24 April the documentary was also screened on Public Television of Armenia. For over 20 years Bared Maronian has worked in Public Broadcasting Service Network (PBS NETWORK) as an editor of special programs. He is a documentarian living in the Florida State, USA. Years ago he founded Armenoid Team a few documentary films produces by which won awards. Bared Maronian’s recent film Women of 1915 was also produced due to the efforts of the Armenoid Team. The move has already rose great interest. In a short period of time it has been screened in New Jersey, Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Toronto. During the Arpa International Film Festival held in Los Angeles this year the Women of 1915 won Armin T. Wegner Humanitarian award. Prior to this the film had received Regional Emmy Awards of National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) for the best directing. And already at the end of November the film won three consecutive awards in Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto: Golden Pomegranate, the Best Documentary and Audience Choice. The film screening in Toronto was held in overcrowded hall followed by a long standing ovation. There were also local Turks among the audience.
Women of 1915 is the first documentary to unveil the role of the Armenian women of the era and the horrors they lived through the first Genocide of the 20th century. The documentary highlights the integral role the Armenian women played in their respective communities and the heroic, humanitarian women advocates who came to their aid from around the world, and some who even died at war-ravaged Ottoman Empire to empower the Armenian women as pillars of war-torn, post-Genocide societies.
The interview with Bared Maronian has been conducted in Toronto right after the end of the festival. Bared speaks Western Armenian fluently, but in order for the Armenian readers to understand him completely the interview is presented in the Eastern Armenian with director’s consent.
“Good evening, Bared. I congratulate you on winning an award in Toronto Festival. Did you expect the film to receive an award?
“I know that all the stores presented in the film deserved all the admiration and ovations. Those women have already won all the possible awards of the world.”
“Bared, can you talk a little bit about your ancestors?
“My grandfather, my father’s father, was Iskantaru. Till 1939 they were living in their homeland. However they were forced to leave their native city after the Kemalist movement launched. And after living in Egypt for a short period they moved to Lebanon. My mother’s roots go back to Adana. My mother’s family survived the two massacres of Adana and hardly made it to Aleppo in 1915. My mother’s mother was an orphan who had grown up in Aleppo orphanage. My mother’s father had met her there.”
“You were born and raised in a city which became cradle of salvation for many Armenians during the Armenian Genocide. And you probably kept hearing stories about the greatest tragedy of our nation. It is interesting what attitude did you have towards the topic of Genocide during your childhood and adolescent years? In other words has this film been inside your mind since you were a young man? As Exupéry has said “We are from our childhood”.
“You know when you are born in Diaspora, you have no other choice but to be an Armenian. Let me bring an example, in Lebanon we were living in a 6-storey building which featured 12 families. Only the members of one of the families were foreigners, the rest were Armenians. And more surprisingly the building was called Sayat-Nova.”
“Has that name been given by the Armenians?”
“No, the building has just been constructed by an Armenian. And in general I grew up in an absolutely Armenian environment. The person who assisted us in doing shopping was an Armenian, the schools I attended were Armenian, and even the university was Armenian. And in spite of the fact that we were not living in our homeland, we created a very profound Armenian environment and fully maintained our Armenian identity. I want to state that I had no other option but to grow up as an Armenian. And it means that since childhood I also carried with me all the pain and suffering of the Armenians who surrounded me. You know during the course of time you realize that the pain grows with you.”
“When did cinema enter your life?”
“Before my teenage years I had great interest towards photography. I liked two things: music and photography. However I did not seriously engage in any of these activities. But I worked as a photojournalist for a short period. I was 18-19 years old and liked to walk around with a camera at hand and to take photos. I moved from Lebanon to the USA only at the end of the civil war and naturally the war has left its impact on my life. I can state that it left a great influence on me regarding the maintenance of my Armenian identity, as when you find yourself in a difficult situation you try to cling to your identity. You have an impression that the only thing that can save and protect you is the strong awareness of your identity. I was 24 years old when I came to the USA and I faced a challenge to restart my life. I did not know what to do. However I knew one thing for sure: I did not want to engage in an activity that had nothing to do with the art. I loved music, photography. The unity of them makes an image and movement. And it all lead to movie. So all this began from it. I had already received an academic education in Haigazian University of Lebanon. I had graduated from the department of Political Science. I worked in the PDS Network of US for 21 years and there came a time when I decided that I needed to do what I wanted. I had made some experimental works previously but I had not engaged in it as a professional. So I made up my mind.”
“Your recent films are documentaries, which means that you like journalism in cinema, is it so?”
“Certainly, it is my style digging and finding something and I love it. And it is also a feature of journalism. I have always wanted and I guess I have managed to reveal and study hidden stories.”
“Numerous movies on the topic of the genocide have been shot in recent years and there are claims that those films do not differ from each other. In general is there something new to be told on that topic?”
“I have watched films on the Armenian Genocide since my childhood. Generally the theme has been presented in so called classic style: the same thing has been told in the same manner. I wanted to tell something that had not been told yet. I have to state that few people worldwide are aware of the tragedy of the Armenian nation that occurred 100 years ago. And the world is not to blame as there are many challenges nowadays. We just need to realize that it is we who should publicize the issue. It is our story and we should take all the possible measures to make the world recognize the Armenian Genocide. And in this regard the move “Women of 1915” and other similar projects implemented by many other filmmakers are of paramount importance. Documentary films leave great influence on the audience. My last two films have been produced especially for the foreign audience. You know there is one thing that I want to underscore: the movie “Women of 1915” is first of all about the tragic historical events of the Armenian people, but in fact it refers to the entire humanity. Those women are vivid examples of the humanism for all the nations. Saving one child is like saving the entire mankind. And they have supported thousands of orphans and women during that horrific time. I wanted to state it.”
“What do you think, don’t we have enough films on the Armenian Genocide?”
“I think we still have enormous work to do. And maybe I overstate the issue but in my opinion at least one program referring to this topic should be initiated on a daily basis. But there is another problem which is very important: making a film is one question and distributing it is a completely different one. And believe me the latter is a more difficult issue.”
“Do you mean that such programs should turn into a common objective for all of us: a part of the strategy for the recognition of the genocide?”
“Exactly. Sometimes I come across some talks claiming that this or that state extorts pressure to forbid the screening of this or that Armenian film. Certainly it is a challenging process full of obstacles but everything is possible in case there are available funds. We should tackle these issues by means of funds meantime realizing its importance. We have no other option but to pay in order to make the world become our audience. When you have a will, financial resources and intention nothing can stop you. Naturally pressure will be inflicted but especially in liberal countries with developed justice system all the process can be organized more easily. It really makes me sad when I hear people say “there are some pressure made on the film and it should not be screened, it will be a waste of time.” No, it is never a waste of time. Efforts are to be made to achieve success.”
“However I cannot figure out that puzzle. There should not be any problems regarding the production of movies on such a topic in Diaspora, should it?”
“I guess the biggest reason in this matter is that the theme of the Armenian Genocide is considered a sacred one. According to the stereotypical approach the works on the genocide must not be sold, instead they should be presents to the Armenian nation… People have such an attitude which is very painful. And such an approach decreases the professionalism. Financial means should not be considered a taboo when dealing with any project aimed at recognizing the Armenian Genocide. It is not a shameful thing.”
“So how did you manage to acquire funds?”
“Frankly speaking it was a difficult process. But thanks to God, we succeeded. I am very glad that the Armenian organizations and some individuals supported us. Due to the assistance provided by Armenian Relief Society (ARS) of Eastern USA, Armenian Relief Society of Canada, AGBU, as well as the organized fundraising the film project was implemented. We applied to everyone likely to support us. I guess all of them provided support to us as much as they could. I am thankful to everyone.”
“Bared, I am convinced that every film is born from an idea or a scene that occurs to the filmmaker. So which story presented in the film (the film features the stories of different women) became the basis of the film? Which story and idea made you take this film-trip?”
“In fact the reason for shooting this film was my prior film “Orphans of the Genocide”. During the shootings of that film I already had the idea of “Women of 1915” in my mind. When working on the film “Orphans of the Genocide” I noticed that every child who survived the genocide had a women in his/her back. They were either Armenian or foreign women. In fact I refrain from calling them foreign women. I would rather call them non-Armenian women, as leaving their comfortable lives in the USA, Europe or other Scandinavian countries, those women hurried to save the Armenian women and children amid all that horrible events. Many of them dedicated their whole life to the Armenian people even after the genocide. Living together with the Armenians those women even acquired Armenian habits, ate Armenian dishes, listened to the Armenian songs and learnt Armenian. Through this film I wanted to show how much theyloved the Armenian nation.”
“I understand that an investigative journalist is used to working with mere facts. I wonder have you had any moments of excitement when you stopped the shooting process to get hold of yourself and then come back.”
“You know there is one phenomenon the Armenian word for which I do not know. It is called desensitization in English. You are supposed to desensitize as a director during your work. However I did not manage to remain intact during the shootings…It was my story. It was whatever I have heard from my grandma and grandpa. You see, grandmothers were more restrained and avoided talking about it, and I always wondered why they did would not tell those stories. Later I understood the reason.
Yes, this film was a real mental suffering for me, as all the works (editing, music combinations) were carried out by me. It made me suffer for three years but I needed to complete it. I had decided to shoot such a film, no one had forced me. I could very easily shoot another film for instance about flowers and live in a peaceful mental state. Thus my sufferings were chosen. I was to pass that road.”
“You have studied a large amount of research material. What archives were they and how did you collect them? Did you use any personal ties, or?”
“The sources were different. We worked with Rockfeller Archive Center, Armenia Genocide Museum, different museums of the USA. We also dealt with a large number of personal archives. The most important things for me were not academic or official sources, but the personal archives. Even the people themselves did not know that they had such important evidence. You see, it was very exciting to find out the shoe or the letters that belonged to one man’s grandmother. All these things made the film. For instance we were aware of a story about Victoria Artinyan, who was the mother of the woman who has adopted Steve Jobs, i.e. his grandmother, however we had no documentary material.”
“Did you find it?”
“Sure. We found the chest which Steve Jobs’s grandma Victoria Artinyan had brought with her from Izmir, Smyrna. The chest featured a few photos. Victoria had worked as a teacher in one of the American missionary schools of Smyrna. We found out textbooks of Physics, Armenian and English languages written in her handwriting. We revealed a very precious thing, all it was very exciting.”
“Where is the content of that chest now?”
“It has been handed over to his family, I also have some things from it.”
“Bared, let us speak about the film shootings held in Turkey. Those who watched the film were shocked by the story of Dudan abyss.”
“Yes, the abyss is located in Chungush village, near Diyarbakir.”
“Were you aware of that story?”
“No. When we were in Turkey, people who accompanied us provided some important information about it. We learnt that during the genocide 10.000 Armenian were thrown off that dark abyss. When I visited the place I was very touched. The villagers noted that the Armenians had been massacred there, but I had no evidence and documentary material on the incident. After digging for a while I found out the notes of a priest living in the USA. Those notes presented the entire monstrous story related to Dudan abyss. Two more sources proved the findings.”
“Writer, American Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Balakian and prominent Turkish lawyer Fethiye Çetin have also been shot in the film.”
“Yes, Fethiye told a touching story about his Armenian grandmother. Unfortunately that story was left out of the film. In general a great amount of material was not included in the film. I encountered Peter in Ani by chance. When I saw him walking around the ruins of Ani I told him that I was going to contact him and offered him to conduct an interview. He gladly agreed, the only objection by him referred to his appearance. However I told him “Peter, look where we are standing now: the Cathedral is the most sacred building that we have, where else can we find such a chance?” He agreed with me and thus we shot that episode of my film.”
“What expectations do you have from this film, namely when you underscore that the film has been shot especially for the foreign audience.”
“After the screenings of my previous movie “Orphans of the Genocide” many people approached me and said that they were shocked as they were not aware of those incidents. For me the primary purpose of the film is spreading awareness. We will do our best so that “Women of 1915” secures its place in libraries, museums and educational institutions.
“Orphans of the Genocide” has been screened on different TV channels of the US with 50 million 600 thousand families having watched it. If each of these families features 2 members, a total of 100 million viewers have watched it.”
“You were shooting the film on the Armenian Genocide during the time when people continued to be relocated in different parts of the world: innocent people who have found themselves in the center of the conflict of interests: victims, pain and sufferings, crisis of humanism. “Women of 1915 is not only about the genocide but also about humanism. You have contrasted two extremes with each other: one is the criminal with his monstrous plan and the other is the power of humanity which in many cases did the impossible. You have contrasted the human being with the beast living in each of us. Why? Do you believe in the power of humanity?”
“Yes, I do believe, otherwise I would not make this movie. I aim at making as much people as possible aware of this role models of humanism. It is well known that Germany was Turkey’s ally during the First World War and supported Turkey by providing with modern weapons. There were a large number of German commanders in the Turkish army. Yes, it was Germans who witnessed the Armenian Genocide and there are many notes left by them which are kept in the archives. The majority of those commanders and servicemen became officials of the Nazi Germany. And whatever the Turks had done to Armenians with their assistance they did the same to the Jews in a highly improved manner. I have presented the stories of these exceptional women amid the nightmare of the atrocities. Humanism eventually proves more powerful than any cruelty.”
“When will the film screenings be held in Armenia?”
“You know, I even wanted to have the film premiere held in Armenia. However the distance and the film language (it is English) hardened the situation. What can I say? I still do not know, but I wish that the film were screened in Armenia as well.”