“Ideally, working on a festival means an endless sense of dissatisfaction”: Interview with GAIFF artistic director Karen Avetisyan

English Daily #3
With the 20th jubilee edition of GAIFF almost to an end, the inevitable reflections kick in. What is the lineage of Golden Apricots and what will be its future? That contemplation is already baked in this years’ festival slogan, "Looking back is yet to come.” According to artistic director Karen Avetisyan, twenty years doesn’t seem much in the history of film festivals, “though it holds immense importance as it represents a substantial portion of the independent Republic of Armenia's timeline of 33 years.” He remarks: “We take great delight in the fact that our festival stands among the rare cultural institutions in Armenia that have remained uninterrupted, serving as a distinctive platform to showcase and promote art cinema, which lacks alternative avenues. By viewing the past as a prism, we are able to gain valuable insights that guide our vision for the future.”

Festivals are living, breathing entities, they change with the times and reflect developments happening in the worlds surrounding them. “A few years ago,” explains Avetisyan about his tenure as artistic director, “we embraced a new vision that shifted our focus towards the region of Western Asia. This decision was driven by several factors, including its tumultuous history, cultural affinities, significant geopolitical importance, and relative underrepresentation in the global festival landscape. We believe that highlighting this region is the most relevant and essential dimension to concentrate on.”

Simultaneously, GAIFF is aiming to look further than just the confines of the silver screen, this year boasting an impressive exhibition program that included the opening of three exhibitions, exploring the relationship between film and other artforms, the history of Armenian cinema and the experiences of people from the Armenian diaspora. “For me personally,” says Avetisyan, “this is one of the most thrilling aspects of our current edition. We envision GAIFF to include a parallel exhibition platform, featuring daily openings of diverse exhibitions that engage in a dialogue between cinema and visual arts. This is particularly important considering the number of festival guests who have a keen interest not only in cinema but also in visual arts. Our aim is to create a multiplatform and multidisciplinary festival, and we hope to lay the foundation for this ambition in the coming years.”

Twenty years of GAIFF also begs the question: what about the next twenty years? For Avetisyan, it means to keep “tapping in the full potential of attracting festival goers and cinema enthusiasts.” He concludes: “Our search for the festival's identity always continues, as we strive to define its essence. Although twenty years have provided some important outlines, the complete portrait remains unfinished. And that’s actually very important for us to stay motivated and ambitious, because ideally, working on a festival means an endless sense of dissatisfaction, forcing us to do even better.”