Director Jivan Avetisyan (left) and Nareg Hartounian (Ara Araz photo)

‘The Last Inhabitant’ Comes to New Jersey

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By Taleen Babayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

FAIR LAWN, N.J. — The East Coast premiere of filmmaker Jivan Avetisyan’s “The Last Inhabitant,” based on a true story set in a Nagorno-Karabakh village, was screened on Friday, February 16, at St. Leon Armenian Church.

With original music by Serj Tankian, the film, which explores the friendship between an Armenian and Azeri man who deal with their own family problems during the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, won the Best Feature award at the Scandinavian International Film Festival and was screened at the Venice International Film Festival.

Ara Araz, who organized the event along with the support of multiple Armenian community organizations, introduced the filmmaker, who was present, and remarked on the importance of the evening’s film as the Armenian community reflects on the 30th anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh movement.

“This is a special film and a special anniversary,” said Araz. “Thirty years ago the Nagorno-Karabakh movement was launched on the world stage capturing everyone’s attention and served as a watershed moment for the Armenian nation.”

Jivan Avetisyan

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Araz thanked the co-sponsoring organizations and highlighted the work of each, particularly the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund, which provides first aid kits for the soldiers who defend Nagorno-Karabakh, noting that half the deaths that occurred during the four-day war in April 2016 could have been avoided if they had had proper medical kits. He also touched upon the work of the Naregatsi Art Institute and Tufenkian Foundation in Nagorno-Karabakh, illustrating Diasporan support in the conflicted region.

Following the screening of the film (in Armenian, with English subtitles) which brought to life the atrocities of war and ethnic cleansing, a discussion took place where guests interacted with the director and explored the nuances and layers of the film. Nareg Hartounian, founder of the Naregatsi Art Institute and a long-time supporter of Avetisyan’s work, served as the translator.

After thanking everyone in attendance along with the organizers and supporters of the event, Avetisyan shared the latest developments of the film, including its recent acceptance into the Shanghai Film Festival.

The universal themes of family and friendships appeal to all people, noted Avetisyan, who elaborated on the friendship of the two main characters, one Armenian and one Azeri, who have been longtime friends in the village of Khachmach (in Nagorno-Karabakh’s Askeran region). As the Armenian-Azeri war escalates in the early 1990s, the Azeri tries to help his Armenian friend and his sick daughter, who was abused by Azeri soldiers, escape their village and find safety.

“Regardless of their religion or color, you see two human beings and their similar mission,” said Avetisyan. “What they want to do is save the life of this girl so there is a humane element in the film.”

He pointed out “as much as you try to destroy and kill the enemy, you may also need him for preservation.” Throughout the film, both men turn to each other to give comfort and assistance to one another.

Topics: Arts

Remarking on the friendship during a complex time in Armenian-Azeri relations, Hartounian highlighted Avetisyan’s ability to “tap into the Azeri psyche,” revealing another dimension to the film.

While the story doesn’t conclude with a definitive ending, Avetisyan said it’s “left up to your imagination and interpretation” but did say that there is “nothing coincidental” in the film.

“The Last Inhabitant” has been shown in various countries, including Iran, Lebanon, Italy, Sweden and Greece, among others. While it has been received positively in many different communities, there has been backlash from the Azeris, who “have done their best to create obstacles and try to discredit myself and the cast,” said Avetisyan. The cast, he said, which is made up of an international background of Greek, Persian, Lithuanian actors, “are part of our cause and are on the right side of justice.”

All of Avetisyan’s films center on Nagorno-Karabakh, his birthplace, including his upcoming “Gateway to Heaven,” which received support from the evening’s ticket proceeds. His previous films include “Broken Childhood” and “Tevanik,” the latter screened at St. Leon three years ago.

Born in Khachmach, where “The Last Inhabitant” was filmed, Avetisyan’s family moved to Gyumri when his father was appointed head of a textile factory there. At the age of 7, he and his family experienced the tragic earthquake there. Their mother badly injured, they returned to Nagorno-Karabakh in 1989, but the war began soon after.

“He lived in basements to find haven from the bombs,” said Hartounian. “These traumatic experiences had an incredible impact on the filmmaker and are deeply rooted within him.”

A reception followed the discussion and gave guests the opportunity to share in conversation about the film. Co-sponsors of the event included St. Leon Church, the Tufenkian Foundation, SR Socially Relevant Film Festival, AGBU Ararat, the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund, the Naregatsi Art Institute, the Daughters of Vartan Sahaganoush Otyag and the Knights of Vartan Bakradouny Lodge.

 

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