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Movie Cancellations at Armenian Film Festival Spark Controversy Over Gay Rights

Golden Apricot drew criticism after cancelling entire slate of films that included two films on LGBT themes. 

13 July 2017

This year’s edition of the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival has been making headlines not just because of its movies, but also due to a last-minute decision to cancel the screening of movies from an entire category, with some accusing the organizers of censorship, according to The Armenian Weekly.

 

“We want to inform you that Armenians: Internal and External Views non-competition program is completely cancelled. We apologize for any inconveniences,” read the official e-mail, which Hrayr Eulmessekian, one of the filmmakers whose work will not be screened, shared on his Facebook page, The Armenian Weekly writes. 

 

The films included two that featured LGBT themes. 

 

Armenia’s Cinematographers’ Union had warned about the cancellation of the entire movie showcase, which contained 40 movies according to The Armenian Weekly, in the event that the two movies were not removed. A more recent statement from the union, however, said that it would not screen any films for a different reason – the recent passing of the group’s former director, Rouben Gevorgyants.

 

"By removing the program from the festival, the Golden Apricot is giving a green light to censorship in Armenia and confirming that in Armenia any film can be treated in an arbitrary way,” read a joint letter from more than 100 filmmakers, artists, and advocates.

 

The letter also compared the decision with “incidents of censorship during Soviet times, by the Young Turks, by the Ottoman Empire, and others.”

 

The two films at the center of controversy include “Apricot Groves,” which features an Iranian Armenian transsexual returning from the United States to propose to his Armenian girlfriend, writes RFE/RL.

 

The other film is “Listen To Me: Untold Stories Beyond Hatred,” a documentary about 10 LGBT people who talk about their experiences of coming out. Most of the stories center on how the interviewees were rejected by their closest ones after learning about their sexual orientation.

 

 

Such stories are most likely familiar to LGBT people in Armenia. In a 2012 study done in the country and cited by RFE/RL, 55 percent of the respondents said they would reject a friend or relative who came out.

 

Another survey done by IGLA-Europe in 2016 ranked Armenia 47 out of 49 European countries based on their treatment of gay citizens, only ahead of Russia and Azerbaijan that took the last spots, NewNowNext writes.

 

 

  • A Yerevan court dismissed charges against the editors of a tabloid that published an article blacklisting 60 individuals active in Armenia’s LGBT community. The story included links to the activists’ Facebook profiles and asked their employers to “fire them under any convenient pretext,” according to EurasiaNet.org.

 

  • Since 2003, homosexuality has been legal in Armenia, RFE/RL writes. However, it remains a taboo in a deeply religious society where 90 percent of the population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church.

 

  • Armenia has made some progress toward marriage equality. The country now recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad, reports NewNowNext, a legislative provision only shared by Estonia in the former Soviet space.

 

  • Out of 1,100 film submissions from 96 countries, this year’s edition of the film festival features a total of 47 films competing in its three main sections: the International Feature Competition (12 films), the International Documentary Competition (16 films), and the Armenian Panorama National Competition (19 films).

 

Compiled by Crystal Tai

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