HOLLYWOOD—The 21st Arpa International Film Festival (Arpa IFF), one of Hollywood’s longest running film festivals, showcased 47 films from 17 countries at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre from November 2 to 4. This year’s festival once more highlighted a diverse range of films that explored themes such as genocide, war, feminism, family dynamics, environmentalism, music, art, adoption, intersectional identities, and LGBTQ issues.
Opening night on Friday, November 2 kicked off with a special reception and screening of MONDAY NIGHTS AT SEVEN (USA, 2016), a love story about a single father who is struggling unsuccessfully to let go of his past. The film stars Edward James Olmos, Marty Sader, past Arpa IFF award recipient Mary Apick and mixed martial arts legend Anderson Silva. A special ceremony honoring Edward James Olmos with a Lifetime Achievement Award followed the screening of the film. The Award was presented by Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated actress Kathleen Quinlan (Apollo 13, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden). Olmos, currently starring in the television series Mayans M.C., has played iconic roles both in film and television, receiving Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Stand and Deliver (1988).
Saturday evening’s centerpiece program featured two films – Anahid Abad’s YEVA (Armenia, 2017), Armenia’s foreign language film Oscar submission last year, as well as DIVERTED EDEN (USA, 2018) written and directed by Prince Baghdasarian. YEVA, which won Arpa’s Best Feature Film, is an intimate drama about a woman suspected of murder who flees to an Armenian village with her young daughter in tow. Yeva has chosen to return to the place she briefly worked as a doctor during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, hoping she won’t be recognized. With mines still dotting the hillsides, the conflict remains part of the fabric of this society and people still remember “Crazy Yeva” of the front-line hospital, though they don’t immediately connect her to the stranger in their midst. As she integrates into the rhythm of village life, Yeva’s memories of the war come flooding back, and a past tied directly to her current predicament.
DIVERTED EDEN, winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Sedona International Film Festival, is the story of a war hero who takes matters into his own hands after his young daughter is kidnapped, as detectives unravel the mystery surrounding the unusual crime. Director Prince Bagdasarian’s debut feature “Abstraction” (2013) starring Ken Davitian and Korrina Rico won the Audience Award at Arpa IFF that same year.
Sunday’s Spotlight Film, IN VINO (USA, 2017) by director Leonardo Foti, won Arpa’s Best Screenplay. The film, starring Sean Young, Edward Asner, and Marina Benedict, is about a wealthy couple, who invite their closest friends and family members to dinner. Before dinner is served the husband raises the glass for a toast to his family and falls face forward on his plate dead. The wife confesses that she had poisoned him and she had poisoned everyone in the room to get the money. The guests have one choice: Kill one person among them and take the blame for both murders to get the antidote or… die in one hour. What follows is a hysterical exchange between the over stressed members of the group who, in an attempt to establish who should die and who should be the killer, reveal all the skeletons in the closet they have been hiding from each-other for years.
A special Closing Night Awards Show wrapped up the three-day festival with three special honorees and a total of six winning films. Best Short Animation Film went to ECHO (Serbia, 2018) by Boriša Simović, about a five-year-old boy who spends a day with his father, whom he only occasionally sees, in nature, with the game of calling Echo. After a great emotional charge that the play and the presence of his father create in him, he returns to his mother’s house, where there is no place for such outbursts of “irrational” attitude towards the world. Best Short Film went to TANIEL (UK, 2018) by Garo Berberian. The London-based filmmaker accepted the Award in person for his film on Armenian poet Taniel Varoujan, who lost his life at the age of 31 during the Armenian Genocide.
Best Documentary Film went to RIVER OF GOLD (USA, 2016) by Reuben Aaronson. Producer Sarah DuPont accepted the Award for the film which uncovers the savage destruction of Peru’s Amazon rainforest. Narrated by Academy Award winners Sissy Spacek and Herbie Hancock, RIVER OF GOLD bears witness to the apocalyptic destruction in the pursuit of illegally mined gold with consequences on a global scale. Best Direction went to Ari Gold of THE SONG OF SWAY LAKE (USA, 2017), a romantic drama about the vanished grace of America, and the spells cast by the melodies of lost time. It’s summer on Sway Lake, former playground of the jazz-age New York aristocracy. A young music collector recruits his only friend, a rowdy Russian drifter, to help him steal a one-of-a-kind vintage record from his own family’s glamorous lake house. He believes that possessing the secret recording of the WW2-era hit, “Sway Lake,” will magically boost his confidence with women – and redeem his father, who committed suicide on the lake.
Special honorees on Sunday night included TV legend ED ASNER who received the Arpa ICON AWARD. His role as Lou Grant during the 1970s and early 1980s, on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off series Lou Grant, make him one of the few television actors to portray the same leading character in both a comedy and a drama. Asner is the most honored male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, having won seven.
Arpa’s CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD went to Italian actress SVEVA ALVITI whose critically acclaimed portrayal of iconic singer Dalida in last year’s biopic DALIDA by Lisa Azuelos took her career to a whole new level. DALIDA was screened on opening night at last year’s Arpa IFF to a sold-out audience. Alviti flew in from Rome for the special tribute. She has the lead female role in LUKAS starring alongside Jean Claude Van Damme, currently in theaters in Europe. Alviti was nominated for Best Female Rising Actress at the 2018 Cesar Awards.
The third honoree of the evening was producer RISING STAR recipient NATALIE QASABIAN, whose latest feature SEARCHING, starring John Cho and Debra Messing, was a huge box office success. She’s currently producing RUN for Lionsgate alongside “Searching” producer Sev Ohanian and director Aneesh Chaganty. The first short film Qasabian produced, “Join the Club” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. From there she went on to produce three Duplass Brothers features: “Rainbow Time,” “Take Me,” and “Duck Butter” directed by Miguel Arteta. She also produced “All About Nina” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year and was acquired by The Orchard.
A highlight from the weekend was a special Women in Filmmaking Panel Discussion on Saturday morning moderated by Pat Saperstein, Deputy Editor for Variety. Five influential and distinguished women in the film industry – Angélica Vale, Kelli McNeil, Michelle Alexandria, Micky Levy, Valerie McCaffrey discussed their journeys, successes and challenges in this ever-changing market.
Celebrity Guests throughout the weekend included Ann Cusack, James Adomian, Ken Davitian, Peter DiStefano, Sofia Milos, Vanessa Lyon, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tajh Bellow, Andre Gordon, Laure Fortier, Camille Hyde, and Tonya Crowe.
Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art (AFFMA) is a non-profit 501 (3) (c) organization. To date, AFFMA has awarded over 150 individuals with grants in support of their creative endeavors. Through its Arpa International Film Festival, AFFMA has recognized industry legends, with Lifetime Achievement, Career Achievement, Humanitarian and Breakthrough Artist Awards. Arpa International Film Festival takes great pride in working toward recognizing the diverse tapestry of international talent and presenting it to an appreciative audience. We place a strong emphasis on filmmakers’ unique artistic vision, cultural diversity and social understanding.