"His polished, sometimes even poetic prose evokes a sense of curiosity and lament. In response to his family’s silence—and to the silence of a whole people still shellshocked by their grim treatment—Kalajian has become a professional storyteller and an excellent one at that." Kirkus Reviews

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The short but powerful film Straw Dolls is set for a most appropriate premiere date: April 24

I wrote an item last July about director Jon Milano’s ambitious plan to make a film called Straw Dolls based on the memories of an Armenian Genocide survivor.

Milano’s task seemed daunting. Then a graduate student at Chapman University, he proposed to raise enough money through a crowd-source website to produce a short film showcasing the story in a way that would garner support for a feature-length version.

A mere nine months later, the initial iteration is complete and set to premiere on April 24. A full schedule of screenings is still taking shape, but Milano’s film has been accepted by the Ridgewood Film Festival in his native New Jersey.

Making such progress in so little time is certainly to Milano’s credit but hold the applause until you’ve seen the film. I have, and I assure you this is an extraordinary accomplishment.

The story is compact but powerful: A father and daughter are preparing to flee their farm when their path is blocked by Turkish soldiers escorting Armenians who are destined for deportation. The daughter hides, while the father poses as a Turk to avoid the fate of his neighbors. Much of the film’s sparse dialogue consists of conversation between the father and the Turkish captain. It becomes clear that both know deportation means death.

Just over 17 minutes long, the film shows Milano to be an astute story teller who understands the power of suggestion. We are told little about the characters, yet we learn a great deal from their motions and glances.

This approach wouldn’t work without a cast capable of conveying great emotion wordlessly yet subtly. Save some of that applause for Marco Khan and Mary Apick, both highly skilled and experienced actors—and both, by the way, born in Iran of Armenian descent.

Please watch for Straw Dolls as it rolls out across the country. You don’t have to be Armenian to be touched by this story, but you should bring some extra tissues to the theater if you are. 

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