Eric V. Hachikian, composer & co-director
Randy Bell, co-director
Emily O'Brien, film editor
Original piano trio performed by
Andie Springer, violin Alisa Horn, cello Meg Zervoulis, piano
Debut performance at AGBU/Chicago
Composer Eric Hachikian and filmmaker Randy Bell search for traces of a lost way of life
Inspired by a beloved grandmother who gave him a lifetime passion for music that became his career, composer Eric Hachikian imagined in sound a journey back to the land of her birth as a tribute to her when she died. On May 2, a full house at the AGBU/Chicago Norehad Center took that journey with him in film, as Eric and award-winning filmmaker Randy Bell presented a sneak preview screening of their new feature-length documentary, Voyage to Amasia, and a performance of the musical composition which inspired the documentary.
The debut presentation marked a first for AGBU/Chicago also as the premiere event of the chapter’s new Kooyumjian Chicago Armenian Humanities Festival, a year-long celebration of Armenian culture sponsored by Thomas Kooyumjian Foundation of Chicago. A grant from the foundation helped the filmmakers reach their final rough cut, and they are in the process of submitting to major film festival and producers for final funding.
The filmmakers spent 23 days traveling throughout Turkey and Armenia, making a real voyage to Amasya and following Eric's family's exile march to Malatya and Istanbul. The film traces a path through the past: telling the story of Eric's grandmother Helen Shushan; examing perspectives on the dark past of the Ottoman Empire among today’s residents of Turkey and Armenia; and describing how the Armenian Genocide affects Turkey, Armenia, and the Diaspora today.
Beginning the program with a presentation of the namesake piano trio, violinist Andie Springer, cellist Alisa Horn and pianist Meg Zervoulis gave a stirring performance of the lively melodies and plaintive lyrical tones in Hachikian’s composition. A special exhibit of Hachikian’s travel photographs conjured emotional glimpses Helen’s former hometown, as seen in the crumbled remains of old missionary buildings and churches boarded up or now used as a mosque.
The documentary constitutes much more than simply a statement of historical injustice. As seen through the camera’s eye of filmmaker Randy Bell and their editor Emily O’Brien, the intensely first-person sojourn sets a fascinating stage for Eric to understand for himself contemporary attitudes about the horrors of the past among those living today in his grandmother’s birthplace. Guided in his journey by woman who is a half Armenian and Jewish, he discovers a mix of opinions and realities as varied as the population of the old Empire: Turks who know little or nothing of their history and others who are eager to sweep away any mention of it. He encounters an elderly resident of Amasya who knows of her Armenian heritage but feels powerless to speak of justice: “Hrant Dink talked about it, look what happened to him…” she says, at the same time joking that “whatever the Turks know about culture they learned from us (Armenians).”
In comments after the screening, Eric mentions a Turkish family who bakes fresh bread for him…touched by the sincere warmth of their hospitality, he also cannot forget how many of his ancestors starved to death without a crumb of the staple food offered to him now by possible descendents of his people’s assassins.
Yet with every step he takes, the audience is increasingly aware of the longing for a sense of home Eric seeks in this strange--and yet strangely familiar--land. Like most Armenians of his generation, even those from storied families like his, he knows little about his relatives in the Old Country. Doing random research during his journey, he recognizes a photo of his great-grandmother Aghavnie Zorigian in a compatriotic society town history of Amasia. He knows Aghavnie and her children were driven to Malatya. From a fragment of her handiwork treasured by his mother Gloria, he knows Aghavnie was an expert seamstress and embroiderer who wove gardens of lush flowers on fabrics with jewel-toned and gilt threads. The Armenian narrative in the town history describes Aghavnie as ‘loved and respected by all because of her decent character,’ a woman who managed to support her family in Malatya because she had mastered a trade, and who helped the poor and needy and taught sewing and designing to many Armenian girls. Simply walking in the footsteps of those who tread before him, he feels the land itself pulling at his heartstrings.
“I feel very rooted here, like I have found something,” he says. “This could have been my home.”
The Film has been submitted to the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, and will be submitted to several other high profile film festivals across the US and abroad, including the Sundance Film Festival, Silverdocs, New York Film Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival. The filmmakers hope to be able to showcase their work in both Armenia amd Turkey.