NEW YORK — Founded in 2014 by actress and filmmaker Nora Armani, the Socially Relevant Film Festival New York is celebrating its eighth edition with its most exciting slate to date: in all 65 films from 33 countries including Armenia will be screened this upcoming March 15-21. Armani dedicated the festival to the memory of her cousin, Vanya Exerjian, who died as a result of a hate crime in Egypt. Hence, from the beginning its goal has been to bring audiences everywhere positive, life-affirming, socially relevant films — in counterpoint to the gratuitous violence that one sometimes sees in contemporary mainstream releases. “My hope,” says Armani, “is that these films will collectively and individually bring about some positive change in the world. If SRFF contributes in even a small way to making such change possible, then I will feel that I have completed my mission on this planet.” Every year Armani also includes films from the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, seamlessly curating them into the different series and panels presented. Here is a brief roundup of what to look for this year, without giving too much away in the form of spoilers.

French Armenian actor and director Serge Avedikian, most recently seen in the 2013 tour-de-force “Paradjanov,” and “Return to Armenia” (2016), has created a highly personal film shot during four visits to his family’s ancestral village of Sölöz in Turkey, from 1987 to 2019. The resulting 65-minute documentary feature, “Back to Sölöz,” is being screened here in its US premiere as part of the festival’s Genocide and Survival series, highlights the themes of identity, historic truth and reconciliation.

Located 170 kilometers south of Istanbul, Sölöz is now bereft of Armenian life, the only remains being in the form of Armenian letters inscribed on discarded stones and steps of ruined monuments and churches.

The documentary’s great strength lies in the fact that Avedikian has few expectations: he doesn’t preach or expect repentance from anyone involved. The reactions of the locals, most of whom were either relocated by the government or moved to Sölöz years after the events of 1915 range from puzzlement to regret about a painful history for which they themselves were not personally responsible.

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Nora Martirosyan’s 2020 feature film, “Should the Wind Drop” (Si le vent tombe) has been making waves: it was included in L’ACID, on the Official Program selection at the Cannes Film Festival 2020 and also screened at the Toronto Film Festival and Tokyo Filmex. Its plot involves an international auditor Alain (Grégoire Colin), arrives to appraise the tiny airport of the self-proclaimed Caucasian republic of Artsakh, in order to greenlight its eventual reopening. He soon meets the energetic and winsome young Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan), a local boy running a make-shift business on the airport grounds. Through his friendship with Edgar, Alain develops an attachment to the land and dedicates himself to help this isolated Armenian enclave develop. Colin delivers a bravura performance, and Bakhryan shows youthful promise. But in the end the film’s main character is really a people fighting for survival, as Martirosyan told Variety magazine: “The main character of the film is a country, one that didn’t officially exist in legal terms, but which was there in front of my camera in order to host the story that it inspired in me: ‘Should the Wind Drop.’ But the wind didn’t drop: instead it became a storm that took away people’s lives, their hopes, and their future.” “Should the Wind Drop” is in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights series.

Pair this film with Mariam Avetisian’s 17-minute documentary short, “The Desire to Live,” which looks at the forced population displacement during the recent 44-day war in Artsakh (September-November 2020), and you get a good feel for what has occurred recently in this embattled republic. “Desire to Live” is in the Genocide and Survival series along with “Return to Sölöz.” Louis Proyect, the film critic will be present to the talk with Serge and the others in this section, programmed for a live broadcast on Tuesday March 16, at 2:30 PM EDT. Serge Avedikian and Mariam Avedisian will be joining in from Paris and Yerevan respectively.

Mariam Ohanyan’s short documentary, “The House That Built Tsoghik,” (22 mins, US Premiere) recounts the story of a remarkable female architect, Tsoghik Arabyan, who worked mainly in 1950s Soviet Armenia. Told through archival footage, the film is being shown as part of the Empowering Women series.

Harlan Bosmajian’s “In Transit” documents a son’s rebellion against paternal law and his father’s attempt to impose on him traditional, restrictive family obligations. Bosmadjian is an American-Armenian filmmaker and cinematographer with some 20 films to his credit, whose work has previously been showcased at SRFF.

Finally Nora Armani’s “iMigrant Woman,” (35 mins, USA), is also being shown as part of the Empowering Women series and will be featured at the NGO CSW 65th Forum Exhibit Booth at the UN, followed by a panel discussion. A finalist for the Women Film Critics Circle Award, “iMigrant Woman” was directed by Armani on Zoom in July 2020 with a cast that spanned six cities (including London, Chicago, and LA) in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown. Armani then edited the footage and is presenting it as a film that encompasses four intertwining monologues that tell the diverse stories of immigrant and migrant women. So in total: six thought-provoking films by Armenians from around the world, all well worth tweeting and hashtagging to interested friends and contacts!

Some Festival Notes:

All films can be viewed at any time during the festival from March 15-21.

The only scheduled events are the “Meet the Filmmakers” live talks and our special workshops and panels. The live talks will be broadcast from the festival’s YouTube Channel, and simulcast on the SRFF Facebook page @SRFFny.

Meet the Woman Filmmakers” is scheduled on Monday March 8, in celebration of International Women’s Day. (Link may be found in the online festival schedule and here.)

A special “Focus on Lebanon” session scheduled on Wednesday, March 17 will cover the current developments and events in that embattled society. Moderated by LAU Executive Director Nadim Shehadi, the discussants will be Lebanese filmmaker Carole Mansour and activist Gino Raidy.

Industry workshops will cover topics such as the importance of PR, Press and the Media in any successful film distribution campaign; a SAG-AFTRA low budget film production webinar which will cover the new trends and platforms in film production; and one-on-one consultations with Aspect Ratio acquisitions agency founder Jordan Matos.

Learn more about the festival at and click on selections of your choice.

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