Scene from filming “Die Like a Man” with Eric Nazarian at left (photo Liana Grigoryan)

Eric Nazarian’s New Movie Tells Story of an Unseen LA and the Dangers of Machismo

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LOS ANGELES — “I always wanted to tell stories about LA in an honest way,” movie director Eric Nazarian continues the conversation about his new movie, “Die Like a Man,” when we finally meet in person after many telephone calls and text messages. After shooting the movie in July, Eric was incessantly traveling between Guadalajara, Mexico and Los Angeles operating the post-production process with Luis Guillermo Navarro and Paco Navarro, with whom he had worked before on the movie about the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan and the animated movie “Aurora.”

Scene from filming “Die Like a Man,” with Eric Nazarian center background (photo Liana Grigoryan)

“‘Die Like a Man’ is a global film set in the heart of LA. It’s a movie about urban naturalism that I haven’t seen much before. I wanted to make a film about the lived-in, faded corners of LA, the underrepresented, kind of ‘Third World of LA,’ the city with all these pastel colored, crooked asphalt streets, and spray-paint rusted backyards, the lived-in, older LA,” Eric says, drawing a vivid picture before the actual movie reaches the big screen in 2022.

It tells the story of a young boy who desperately wants to impress his mentor, a leader of a gang that he is involved in. On the other side is his mother, who is trying to keep her son off the streets. In a way, this is a big “civil war” between his mentor and his mom.

The motivation for the movie came when Nazarian saw a boy on a bicycle with a gun in his backpack. With his film, Nazarian strives to show another picture of Los Angeles, mostly unseen and often demonized. Cinema of the street is how he classifies his work. He asks: “Why do boys have to shed blood to be considered men? Why is it that we live in a globalized society of machismo where guns and violence, military and gangsters and tough guys are always in the forefront of our consciousness, but the mothers and people who suffer, the people who have been the victims of the excessive toxic machismo, fall by the wayside?”

Scene from filming “Die Like a Man,” with Eric Nazarian center background (photo Liana Grigoryan)

He tries to find the answers through his art.

Even though the cast and crew are truly international — from Mexico, Los Angeles, Trinidad and Poland — the characters are based on people that Nazarian has known during his childhood and adolescent years. “I am part of every single character,” he says, adding: “I am so so proud and grateful to my magnificent actors Miguel Angel Garcia, Cory Hardrict, Mariel Molino, Frankie Loyal and so many of our talented cast who really trusted me.”

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Emigrating from the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic when he was only 4, Eric grew up during a crucial period when so many diaspora communities were finding the new prospect of a homeland in LA. They brought with them their unique cultures and characters, creating new battlegrounds in the city by forming allegiances and claiming their turf with blood and violence.

Eric sees himself as an interpreter, a peacemaker between these diverse groups. “Die Like a Man” is as personal as it can be to him. “To die like a man is a part of every street society of the world, from the gangs of Johannesburg to Tony Soprano, to the medieval Medicis. The idea of a manhood is defined by violence. I remember all these parties that we used to go to, the DJ’s. Guns were like cigarettes in ‘80s and ‘90s LA. It was scary,” he remembers.

He would attend parties with his cousin in Hollywood, Montebello and Los Angeles River, where he grew up with Mexican, African-American, Cuban and Asian friends, kids who were obsessed with hip-hop and trying to impress the girls. Eric sees that street culture served as a “way in” at that time. A mini militarized state is how Eric describes the city when Daryl Gates was the chief of the Police Department.

Even though Nazarian went to a public school, he never felt the need to prove his national identity: it was there all along thanks to his family for whom Armenian culture was “the flagship.” He grew up in the area close to Atwater Village, where he would go for walks with his grandfather.

The theme is not purely American: it deals with Armenia, with the Middle East, with LA. It’s about the rites of passage of boys becoming men. “Whether it’s a young kid in the village in Armenia who’s taught to hold a gun in the military at the age of 18, or it’s a little kid in Brazil who’s basically given a package and told to run from here to there for his big boss to be impressed by his work, boys are always expected to prove their toughness in order to be considered a man. It’s extremely dangerous,” he adds.

Where does the Armenian kid fit into this picture of the city? “Armenians have always fit into the greater narrative of the world. We are one of the most globalized people in the world,” he answers.

“I am a global citizen who happened to be born of an ancient culture. But I am also an Angelino who has been here since four years old, way before the actual Armenian invasion occurred after the Soviet Union [collapsed],” he specifies. Eric has a very close affinity with the Latin, Mexican and Chicano people as well as with the African-American people because these were the kids who he grew up with, best friends and community as much as the Armenians. He said: “I am trying to tell a much bigger narrative, gravitating towards a multicultural awareness in an awakening of the Armenian artists, the Armenian history of the storytellers.”

Eric Nazarian developed an innovative approach in his new movie called C.I.C. (Community Inclusive Cinema) in which instead of casting professional actors, he chooses and trains regular people, representatives of minority groups, and gears them up with all the tools and skills to present his vision as realistically as possible.

“Die Like a Man” is the first part of a trilogy. The second part will present the life of the main character ten years later from the period featuring the original movie and the third part will tell the story of his father and mentor in the 1980s and 1990s, completing the story of generations.

With the increased gun violence in the US, the message to society that “Die Like a Man” proposes is a bold question: Why do we glorify, sexualize and glamorize strength, violence and militarization of the mind? “We are trying to control a woman’s body in the Congress now, but we can’t control our guns, right? That’s hypocrisy for me!” Eric exclaims.

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