The 2021 Socially Relevant Film Festival: ‘Back to Sölöz’

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BY Louis Proyect

NEW YORK (counterpunch.org) – Starting Monday, March 15, and ending on Sunday March 21, the Socially Relevant Film Festival will present dozens of films through a virtual theater. Like last year, the pandemic has had an impact not only on this festival but all theaters in New York that cater to leading edge independent work. The big commercial theaters like AMC have opened under conditions of social distancing but the best leading-edge houses like Film Forum are streaming only. On the plus side, people everywhere will be able to see SR Festival films for $7 each, with a festival ticket available for $75. If you need any motivation to see one or all the films and have also found yourself appreciating films I recommended on CounterPunch, let me repeat my testimonial to the SR Film Festival in 2015. I would only add the words “unending economic crisis and pandemic”:

I had an epiphany: “socially relevant” films have a higher storytelling quotient than Hollywood’s for the simple reason that they are focused on the lives of ordinary people whose hopes and plight we can identify with. With a commercial film industry increasingly insulated from the vicissitudes of an unending economic crisis, it is only “socially relevant” films that demand our attention and even provide entertainment after a fashion. When the subjects of the film are involved in a cliffhanging predicament, we care about the outcome as opposed to the Hollywood film where the heroes confront Mafia gangsters, CIA rogues or zombies as if in a video game.

Back To Sölöz, (Tuesday, March 16, 2:30 PM)

Sölöz is a village in the Bursa province just four hours south of Istanbul that director Serge Avedikian has visited over the years to capture on film his quest to track down the remnants of Armenian culture that mostly disappeared during the 1915 genocide. This was his grandfather’s village. During the forced march across the desert separating Turkey from Syria, his grandfather lost his parents just as happened to over a million others.

Serge Avedikian is omnipresent through this poignant and often disheartening film as he tries to eke out some acknowledgement from the village’s Turkish population that a genocide occurred. As the film begins, we see him in a museum dedicated to the memory of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist who was assassinated in 2007 for simply advocating the integration of Turkish-Armenians into the wider Turkish society. For this, he was prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness”, article 301 of the penal code.

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Avedikian, a French-Armenian, has a long and distinguished career in the film industry. He is also a very warm and compassionate man who took a genuine interest in the village of Sölöz’s difficulties in a time of economic decline and instability. Each time he arrives there, he hugs the men who he might have met as a child in an earlier visit. All are willing to help in his quest to find the traces of Armenian presence there but none seem willing to acknowledge the genocide. One man attributes the deaths to the war when chaos prevailed. When Avedikian gently presses him on whether Turkish deaths began to approach the Armenian losses, he gets nowhere.

Serge Avedikian

Avedikian’s main goal is to create a small museum in Sölöz that will be dedicated to the headstones of the deceased that he discovered at the ruins of an Armenian church. Some of the villagers are willing to help him out but in his absence their efforts peter out. Eventually, the headstones end up strewn across a field near the village but barely salvageable.

Despite all this, Avedikian presses on dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Armenian presence in Sölöz, even if it is only on film.

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Nora Armani

Louis Proyect will be moderating with Nora Armani a discussion on Genocide and Survival which is on the themes of “Return to Soloz” and “The Desire to Live,” both very pertinent events for Armenians. Mariam Avedisian, the director of the latter film, on the recent Artsakh war refugees, will be present too at that session. It takes place Tuesday, March 16, at 2:30 PM via YouTube LIVE. Here is the link to that event: https://youtu.be/RwLDNUjKlqA.

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