Friday, 20 July

Filmmaker Nigol Bezjian: “Censorship of art is cultural suicide”

By Nigol Bezjian

On Friday July 7, 2017, I received an email from the 14th Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan that the screening of my film “Temple of Light” had been canceled.

“Dear Nigol Bezjian,

 We want to inform you that Armenians: Internal and External Views non-competition program is completely cancelled. We apologize for any inconveniences”.

There is no reason or explanation for the cancelation. I later learnt through social media that the festival had to withdraw two films with LGBT themes due to the objection of the venue where the festival films in said section were to be screened. I have no clue as to how the issue of the two “objectionable” films evolved into canceling the entire section; a total of 37 films. 

The festival was to start on July 9. The program was complete and announced in the media and the catalogues were printed. Naturally, the films had been selected from all the submitted films, decisions had been made of what to include and screen. Such a last-minute decision to cancel an entire festival’s section is an unheard of.

In all my long years of being in cinema, I have never encountered such conduct. I will limit myself to this -  this sort of irrational “institutional” behavior is what to expect from organs of failed states and outdated organizations.

Dissecting the absurdity of this decision could fill pages. It points to all that is wrong with electoral, economic and social corruption which leads to the corruption of mind and culture. That blind nationalism clouded with orthodox conservatism is a road to the dark ages and not to a bright future. Censorship of art is cultural suicide.

The 37 filmmakers, who worked so hard, deserve better treatment than a curt email from the festival’s secretary.

If the organizers of the festival truly wished to screen the films they could have found solutions, but that requires the will to accept responsibility, instead of pointing fingers at who might be guilty behind the screen.  

The saddest part is the silence of the media and filmmakers in Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, except for the few who voiced their astonishment. 

Adding salt to the injury, a friend who is associated with the festival unofficially suggested that I should side with the festival and denounce the trouble makers.

I have no desire to become a pawn in an internal conflict that has resulted in censorship, which I abhor.

Nigol Bezjian is an award-winning filmmaker, he was the co-winner of the Golden Lion award of 2015 Venice Biennale.

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Comments (9)
1. Hagop23:25 - 19 July, 2017
“Censorship of art is cultural suicide” --> Not when such "art" comes with a foreign-funded agenda to harm said culture.
2. Raffi23:54 - 19 July, 2017
Hagop, you come across as a diaspora dunce! These films, which evidently threaten you, are about people living in Armenia. Promote your censorship in the country where you live, not in Armenia.
3. Noric Dilanchian13:34 - 20 July, 2017
Nigol well said.
4. Era13:36 - 20 July, 2017
As a lover of Armenian culture and cinema, I came from Scandinavia to see these very films. At Henrik Malyan theatre, I heard that they are cancelled. The staff in the information kiosk in Kino Mockba did not know anything about cancellation - they did not even know where Henrik Malyan theatre is! The explanations that their bosses gave were even more ridiculous. And they were unable to print a paper about cancellation and put it on the wall. Instead, the manager suggested that I should have come to their press conference (where? when?). I do not think there was censorship, but just mere stupidity and lack of ability to organise big international events. Remains of Soviet mentality in which the customers do not count. I have came to Golden Apricot 6 times. Next year not. I think the organisers should go aboard and see how such events are organised.
5. Hagop00:02 - 21 July, 2017
It looks like Mr Bezjian had his movie cancelled, not because anything was wrong with it or they didn't like it, but because he could be a victim of circumstance. Probably all the films were cancelled because the "two films" spoiled it for all the others, and it raised suspicions that the other films might also contain 'western-lifestyle' propaganda material. Lesson of the day: don't try to be sneaky with your liberalism in a conservative culture.
6. Patlamish03:40 - 21 July, 2017
Comments such as "Diaspora Dunce" and "Yerevantsi Yokel" serve no useful purpose. Moderators should disallow such remarks.
7. eddu09:24 - 23 July, 2017
Art as well a good education need all kinds of freedom. ... a "national society r soul " should be strong and well informed enough to "protect its soul" .. This means when who hid something a part of society will become easily a target of enemy or "foreign powers"
8. Vahan Asrabian15:03 - 26 July, 2017
Hagop & Raffi, well said! Armenia has enough enemies, problems & challenges to afford such wild liberalism.
9. Vahe00:39 - 1 August, 2017
That's it, make all the local dictators happy with such censorship, Turkey and Azerbaijan applaud this way, and Putin is happy that his propaganda reaches Armenia !
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