WILLIAMSPORT, Penn. – Leah Bedrosian Peterson, multi-media artist, associate professor of film and video arts, and chair of the communications department at Lycoming College, received recognition at multiple national film festivals for “Under the Walnut Tree,” her first stop-motion animation. The animated film, which was made in part with funds gifted through a Lycoming College Professional Development Grant, was officially selected for screening at the Atlanta Shortfest, the Austin Spotlight Film Festival, and the Florida Animation Festival where it won first place as the audience favorite. In addition, “Under the Walnut Tree” was chosen as a finalist with onscreen recognition in the DaVinci International Film Festival and as semi-finalist at both Animayo, an Oscar qualifying festival, and the Los Angeles CineFest.
Peterson found inspiration for this film through her Armenian heritage. Based loosely on the story of Shahan Natalie, who survived the Hamidian Massacres in Armenia, the plot follows a young boy who was displaced after the mass murder of his family and his people. In order to depict the reality of child refugees, the main character is portrayed as a child who could be from any era, rather than strictly adhering to the details of Natalie’s life.
Peterson utilized her own talents in designing and sculpting the characters, designing the set, and shooting and editing the film, but she received help with many other aspects of production from colleagues and students, as well as from faculty at other institutions. Maria Hebert-Leiter, a lecturer for the English department at Lycoming College, wrote the touching narrative, which was translated by Vartan Matiossian, director of the Armenian National Education Committee and book review editor for Armenian Review. The film was narrated by Charles Garoian, Ph.D, professor of art education at Penn State University and the title song for the film is by Hooshere, a well-known Armenian singer. The set and costumes were created by former Lycoming College students, Gabriela Burch ’18, the digital animation was done by Brianne Charnigo ’14, and Geena Woodley ’17 assisted in costume modification.
“ ‘Under the Walnut Tree’ was a labor of love to tell a very important story, and I would not have been able to produce it without the generous time and talents of those who helped me make it a reality,” Peterson explained. “My Armenian heritage and the stories of survival that were passed down in my family have had a deep impact on my life and my creative work. My hope is that the film resonates with audiences and that they are able to reflect on the nature of our world in a way that elicits more compassion and consideration for those who have been through turmoil and genocide.”