Provoked into existence

English Daily #1
This story has been told countless times, but it bears repeating that the Golden Apricot film festival was technically created 20 years ago out of spite. “After my film The Documentarist received a Special Mention in Karlovy Vary in 2003, we were celebrating with international friends,” GAIFF founding director and documentary filmmaker Harutyun Khachatryan recalls. “Suddenly this man shows up, Dutch critic Peter van Bueren, whom I didn’t know, and starts spewing insults like: ‘Armenia? What kind of country doesn’t have a film festival? That’s stupid!’ I blasted him with every English curse word I knew and proclaimed that this time next year everyone is invited to our festival in Armenia!” The rest is history. The very first Golden Apricot took place from June 30 to July 4 2004. The competition program featured only films from Armenia and the diaspora, while the non-competition section consisted of international offerings.

Of course, this is more of a quirky anecdote and it wasn’t even the first time the trio that would end up establishing Golden Apricot (Harutyun Khachatryan, scriptwriter and film scholar Mikayel Stamboltsyan and film critic Susanna Harutyunyan) had attempted to do a festival. Back in November 1994, they organized a festival of Armenian debuts; however, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the First War in Artsakh the newly independent country wasn’t ripe for a continuous event. The film studio died out and the rare cinemas that weren’t demolished or transformed into marketplaces, just had a few screenings per year. “We didn’t have enough money to revive the studio or to send aspiring filmmakers abroad to learn,” Khachatryan says. “So establishing an international film festival was the only thing to do.”

But why name a festival after a fruit? “I was ready to mortgage my property to make the festival happen,” Khachatryan explains. “Then we learned that a wealthy local businessman wants to organize an international symposium dedicated to apricots. We jumped at the opportunity and proposed to make the event a part of the festival and call it Golden Apricot. He was thrilled and pledged to donate 50,000 dollars! Sadly, due to financial troubles, he could only spare 5000 in the end. The symposium idea fell through, but the name stuck around. The total budget of the first edition ended up being just 16,000 dollars.”

After that, Golden Apricot grew and evolved into what it is today. However, the question remains - was Peter van Bueren, who became a great ally of the festival and even established the Golden Apricot Daily in 2008, just taunting or was all this an elaborate plan? “That was just Peter’s way of doing things,” Susanna Harutyunyan contemplates. “Provocation was his method. It did not always work, but when it did, he stood by the results all the way.” Perhaps van Bueren, who passed away in 2020, saw through the psychology of a small nation with a great legacy behind its back that can’t quite find its footing in the modern world, but desperately desires to live up to that legacy. Intentional or not, in this particular case, his provocation landed in fertile soil.

Artur Vardikyan