Knights and Daughters of Vartan Screen Saroyan Film Saroyan on Silver Anniversary


FRESNO — Walking into the fellowship hall of Fresno’s First Armenian Presbyterian Church for the celebration luncheon and Silver Anniversary Screening of acclaimed documentary film, “William Saroyan: The Man, The Writer,” sponsored by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan Yeprad and Alidz Lodges on Sunday March 5, was like being transported to the heyday of 1930s Hollywood. Two dapper welcoming tuxedo-clad greeters stood with programs and smiles at the entrance of a roped red carpet, flashes of resident photographer Edward Ashjian captured each grand entrance accentuated by the handshake of a William Saroyan look-a-like perched by his bicycle with a copy of the Fresno Bee tucked into his pocket; not too far away, a life-size cut-out of Saroyan himself, gazed approvingly.

Silver and black streamers with movie cameras and clap boards delicately floated in the air as a gold star was placed on each lapel and guests were escorted to one of 25 round tables decorated in the “forget me not” Armenian commemorative colors of royal purple and gold. Along the way, an exhibit of 14 characteristic portraits of Saroyan awaited exploration from the personal collection of photographer, writer and director Paul Kalinian. Each 14×17 portrait rested on easels lined up as soldiers along the slate brick walls of the hall accentuated by stained glass windows. A 30×40 US Saroyan Stamp Poster began the salute and interspersed among quotes of Saroyan was the Mamiya RB67 still camera used to shoot the famous series of portraits taken on March 26, 1976 and the 16mm Bolex motion picture camera used for filming the award-winning documentary we anxiously awaited to see on the life and works of William Saroyan. Leading to the stage, adorned with a 40-foot silver film strip, were two 35×45 larger-than-life Saroyan portraits beckoning one’s attention, one of which was selected by the United States and USSR Postal Services for their Commemorative Stamps jointly issued on May 22, 1991 in Yerevan, Armenia and in Fresno as a symbol of peace and friendship between the two superpower nations of the world.

This unique collection culminated center stage with an elegant 30×40 Saroyan Stamp Cachet Poster featuring First-Day-Issue cancellations of the US and USSR Saroyan stamps and original portrait of Saroyan numbered and signed by photographer Paul Kalinian, flanked by the Armenian and American national flags and a never-before-seen-in-public display of the film’s Gold Award Statue, along with a personally autographed book by Saroyan inscribed, “For Paul Kalinian a great photographer artist. Sincerely, William Saroyan, Fresno April 8, 1976.”

The festivities began as Rita Shamlian, matron of Daughters of Vartan Alidz Otyag, welcomed the nearly 250 guests in attendance. Special guests of the day were introduced by Phillip Tavlian Esq. which included the 8th President of California State University, Fresno, Dr. Joseph Castro and his wife Mary, First Lady of the University; Fresno County Supervisor District 5 and Former Clovis Mayor Nathan Magsig; and Denise Altounian, the district representative of United States Rep. Jim Costa.

The opening prayer was offered by senior pastor, Rev. Gregory Haroutunian and the air was filled with musical selections of inspirational spiritual hymns by pianist Carina Tokatian and vocalist Morgan Marashian.

At the conclusion of the luncheon hour guests adjourned to the church sanctuary equipped with three projection screens, with new attendees receiving a silver star on their lapel for entrance to the standing-room-only and much anticipated feature film on the life and works of William Saroyan. Dr. Dennis Shamlian, a past commander of Knights of Vartan Yeprad Tahlij and his wife Matron Rita Shamlian introduced Writer/Director Paul Kalinian and his daughter, Producer Dr. Susie Kalinian. After the presentation of the National Anthems of the United States of America and the Republic of Armenia, the documentary was screened for the assemblage. The film narrated by William Saroyan and Mike Connors, was dedicated to the memory of the Fresno-born actor and film star who passed away on January 26, 2017 at the age of 91. The film’s graphic design is by Sarkis Muradyan and award winning music is composed by Paul Nazlikian.

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The documentary, a touching tribute to Saroyan, who died on May 18, 1981 at the age of 72, has won six international film festival awards including the Gold Award among 12 competing nations from the Philadelphia International Film Festival. The film premiered in the William Saroyan Theatre in Fresno in April 1991 and has since been shown in more than 60 cities and 19 countries around the world. The documentary portrays Saroyan’s personal life, his character and philosophy, his works and message to the world and the undying love and passion he felt for both his native country as an American, and for the country of his forefathers, as an Armenian. Saroyan discusses his cultural heritage and its influence on his becoming a writer. He rejects money, fame and glory and ultimately returns to his roots to find his eternal rest.

Following the film the audience was treated to a lively question-and-answer session by the filmmakers. Cohosts Dr. Dennis and Rita Shamlian presented Dr. Susie Kalinian and her father with trophies in appreciation for their cinematic production, service and dedication to Knights and Daughters of Vartan and the Armenian and non-Armenian communities worldwide. The elder Kalinian was honored with a special resolution from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors “for his philanthropic and educational contributions and for representing Fresno through his artistry by making and presenting this award winning documentary film all over the world for the past 26 years.” The filmmaker was also presented with a surprise Congressional Record honoring and celebrating the lifelong contributions of Paul Kalinian: “a man who has dedicated his life to preserving American and Armenian culture through the art of photography and film” signed by Costa.

At the conclusion of the film program, Rita Shamlian offered closing remarks and invited the excited audience to return to the Fellowship Hall for a lavish dessert reception, which included a closer appreciation of Paul Kalinian’s exhibition and Saroyan memorabilia, a Gallery II book signing by artist Pat Hunter and author Janice Stevens, who recently published the culinary volume, “Breaking Bread with William Saroyan,” and a much anticipated meet and greet with the filmmakers to conclude the lovely literary afternoon with Saroyan, documented by local television stations. It was truly a fun, educational, cultural and unforgettable event.

To host a film screening fundraiser event for a local Knights and Daughters of Vartan Chapter and/or community organization, you can contact the filmmakers to present their film at your next organized event, and visit their film trailer and website. There is no charge to show the film, as it is a labor of love by the Kalinians who donate all proceeds to the sponsoring organizations for their fundraising purposes. The only requirement is round trip travel from Fresno, California and hotel accommodation, which can be shared among several chapters or community organizations.

Serving on the Saroyan Film Luncheon Committee with Shamlian were Annette Agulian, K Pam Basmajian Ude, H Debbie Garabedian, Paulette Janian Melkonian, M. George Karkazian, Paul Kalinian, Susie Kalinian DMD, Ani Missakian, Dennis Shamlian DDS, and Phillip Tavlian, Esq. Special thanks to First Armenian Presbyterian Church and Administrator Suzy Artemyan, Maryvonne Gagliardi, Linda Tikijian, Dessert Reception Committee, Charles Garabedian, Edward Ashjian, FAPC Youth, Zohrab Atarian, S Ari Adams, Raffy and Hasmik Haddadin and Al Garabedian.

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