Diana Angelson isn’t Armenian but she had long been horrified by the tales of her friends about the shocking incidents that led to the murder of 1.5 million people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire (today known as Turkey) from 1915 to 1923.
Moved by their stories, the Romanian-American filmmaker was determined to make a difference on their behalf by creating a film that would bring the tragedy to life.
The resulting feature-length production, “Armenia, My Love,” opens Friday at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 movie theater, in addition to the Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood and the MGN 5 Star cinema in Glendale.
But first, Angelson and her filmmaking team will be presenting a world premiere screening tonight, April 14, with a red carpet arrival at 7 p.m. at the Playhouse 7, with the screening at 7:30 p.m., a Q&A afterward and an after-party featuring appetizers starting at 9:30 p.m. at Edwin Mills by Equator in Old Pasadena.
“I’m not Armenian, but what inspired me was the fact that many people in this world have no clue about the Armenian Genocide,” says Angelson. “My country, Romania, is an Orthodox country — the Christian sister nation of Armenia — and doesn’t teach about or recognize the genocide.
“My intention was to give a tribute to those people and show how injustice has been perpetrated throughout time,” Angelson continues. “There is a need in redemption, as in the Holocaust, where the Germans have apologized, changed their attitude and swear to never repeat the mistakes of their past.”
Angelson not only directs but also wrote and stars in the movie, which revolves around the plight of a happy family living in the Ottoman Empire on the occupied territory of Armenian Homeland, now Eastern Turkey, in 1915. The family’s dreams for the future become memories in the eyes of the world’s most famous Armenian American artist, who lives to paint the story of his shattered childhood. Joining Angelson in the cast are Shake Tukhmanyan (“Lord of War,” “Sideways”), veteran actor Anatol Razmeritza, Arman Nshanian (“Palco & Hirsch,” “Leo’s Oscar”) and Nazo Bravo (“Armenian American,” “4 Minutes”), who is also an increasingly popular Armenian rapper.
“Armenian, My Love” also marks the feature film debut of 10-year-old Petru Georoiu.
Two key players were essential to making “Armenia” a visually rich experience: Romanian artist Paula Matei, whose works are seen throughout the film, and Romanian cinematographer Marius Neacsu. Neacsu helped Angelson bring to life the creative idea of the film’s happy moments in the opening scenes prior to the first killings of Armenian leaders, and the scenes of sadness and death depicted in black and white.
“The way I see it, basically April 23, 1915 was an amazing day,” explains Angelson. “The leaders of the Armenian community all over the Ottoman Empire were called to come to Constantinople with hope for a new life. It was a day of celebration, when they decided to take all the elders and kill them there, behead them, and that’s when life lost its color.
“So in my movie, that’s when life lost its color and didn’t have meaning anymore,” she continues. “The movie goes on in black and white. It’s full of sadness and lost love for parents, wives and children and goes on like that until one day when an adult man tries to not to forget, but forgive and live a life that honors his relatives who died. Now he’s in America living a full life and color comes back to his paintings because he wanted to paint the world and color comes back to the movie too.”
“Armenia” was shot in “30 to 40 locations” around the Mojave Desert, and in churches in California and Nevada, with over 800 people auditioning. Angelson felt that directing herself wasn’t too difficult, because she was so impassioned for the cause and knew the material inside and out.
“The challenges were in recreating big scenes — marches, people being deported and marched in the desert,” she recalls. “The biggest challenge was to make a movie about the Armenian Genocide and reveal things that actually happened. Some parts are too painful to watch, too much for anyone, but we have scenes of killing and those were the most difficult to shoot because you have to think ‘this really happened.’ There were lots of tears and emotions, but we made it.”
“Armenia, My Love” has its world premiere starting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets for the evening’s events are $25. Visit Laemmle.com/films/40518 or call (310) 478-3836.