Aurora Mardiganian

Armenian Genocide Documentary Premieres at Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France

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YEREVAN — At only 14, in 1915, Aurora Mardiganian faced the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. Within a year, witnessing the deaths of everyone in her family, Aurora had lost everything, and was sold into a Turkish harem. But with extraordinary courage and luck, she escaped to America, where her story became a sensation. The Zoryan Institute’s objective with this film is to bring to life the ZI’s Oral History Testimonies onto the big screen, through animated documentary films, to relay the stories of the Genocide survivors to the younger generations, especially of girls and to empower them, and to represent their communities in the face of great adversity and violence.

In 2015, on 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Zoryan Institute, signed a partnership agreement with Bars Media of Armenia to produce the animated documentary based on the testimony of Mardiganian. “Aurora’s Sunrise” was made possible with the academic contribution of the Zoryan Institute Armenia, based on its oral history archives (filmed by the Zoryan Institute on January 29, 1984).

The film is directed by Inna Sahakyan and produced by Bars Media, led by Vardan Hovhannisyan, Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion and Artbox Laisvalaikio Klubas, with the financial partnership of Eurimages, the Zoryan Institute Armenia and the National Cinema Center of Armenia, and with the contributions of the Lithuanian Film Center, ZDF/ARTE, Public TV Armenia, and LRT.

The Zoryan Institute is thrilled that 40 years after the launch of the Armenian Genocide Oral History Project, which collected testimonies of survivors of the 1915 Genocide across 4 continents, the great-grandchildren of those who experienced the genocide are experiencing life before, during, and after the genocide through a film that seamlessly blends a mix of footage from the Zoryan Institute’s original live interview with Aurora and the brilliant animation of Bars Media and their German and Lithuanian co-producers, along with scenes from the 1919 silent film “Auction of Souls” (starring Aurora Mardiganian prepared by Near East Relief).

“Great credit goes to the Zoryan Institute’s founders and staff at the time (early 1980’s), who contextualized and carried out the Armenian Genocide Oral History Project, collecting over 3000 hours of oral history testimony from over 780 survivors in their 70s to 90s. The project was a significant financial undertaking, with the audiovisual equipment alone costing the equivalent to nearly half a million US dollars in today’s dollars employing a work force to conduct interviews, in cities across Europe, the Middle East, and North America,” the Institute says.

Over 100 standardized questionnaires were utilized, developed by a multidisciplinary ZI team of experts, that allowed the Institute to extract information on social, economic, political, and cultural practices before, during, and after the genocide to capture commonalities and patterns. Since launching its Armenian Genocide Oral History Project, the Institute has worked continuously and systematically to protect, digitize, and index its archival collection of over 780 oral history testimonies, to ensure the quality of the footage is maintained and usable for films like Aurora Sunrise.

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The world premiere of “Aurora’s Sunrise” took place at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France earlier in June. Annecy is a week-long global festival that brings together the biggest names in animation to celebrate creative and diverse animation styles and techniques. This year it took place June 12-18.

A scene from “Aurora’s Sunrise”

Now, 40 years later, the Institute’s dream of utilizing the enormous power of film to connect future generations with their universal history and raise awareness about the phenomenon of genocide has become a reality. With the generous support of the Friends of the Zoryan Institute, this dream has become a reality. In addition to initial cost of the Oral History testimonies, the film had a budget of more than $1,000,000.00, and is only the beginning of these invaluable stories of Armenian Genocide survivors.

Ongoing transcription and translation efforts currently underway in partnership with the American University of Armenia, will make these stories more accessible to scholars, filmmakers, authors, institutions, and schools around the globe who wish to use these stories, as source materials for education in edifying the tolerance and understanding needed in today’s world, more than ever.

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