‘Amerikatsi’ Director and Star Michael Goorjian on Finding Optimism in a Prison Film for Armenia’s Oscar Entry

‘Amerikatsi’ Director and Star Michael Goorjian on Finding Optimism in a Prison Film for Armenia’s Oscar Entry

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Filmmaker Michael Goorjian set out to create a different kind of film about Armenian nationality when developing “Amerikatsi,” the country’s submission in the international feature category for this year’s Academy Awards. Along with directing, Goorjian also stars as Charlie, an American who repatriates to Armenia after World War II — but ends up in a Soviet prison for simply wearing a tie. The circumstances are absurd and bleak, but Goorjian was intent on finding a light, affirming tone for the story.

“There had been a lot of Armenian films usually focused on the genocide. I just wanted to make something that would be hopeful. But also I wanted to make a film that Armenians could be proud of, but wouldn’t be hard to share — that was enjoyable to watch,” Goorjian shared in a conversation with fellow director Atom Egoyan. “Today there’s so much crazy stuff going on. And we forget about the side of humanity that’s essentially good. That’s not a theme that’s reflected in films all that much.”

Armenian Canadian filmmaker Egoyan has devoted his own work to telling intricate tales of communities impacted by trauma, with acclaimed features such as “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter.” He has emerged as one of “Amerikatsi’s” most vocal champions since the film’s debut at the Woodstock Film Festival last year.

“One of the goals of the film was to help support Armenia in a way that I felt as an artist was the best way I could do, which was instead of making a film about Armenia in another country… to give them a project and work with them and give them an opportunity for all these different artists to work on something meant a lot,” Goorjian says, touching on how the Armenian Philharmonic scored the film.

Stuck behind bars, Charlie discovers that he can view into a neighboring apartment from his cell window. As he observes the ongoing life of another Armenian artist, he comes to reaffirm his own devotion and love for his native country. Charlie’s own fortitude doesn’t just parallel Goorjian’s filmmaking ambition to find hope and humor within a prison film — it also resembles the resilience of the project’s crew, many of which joined the military as Russia’s relationship with Armenia deteriorated following the invasion of Ukraine.

“Just by having a film that’s accessible – that’s not just for Armenians, but also for non-Armenians – it helps Armenians to be seen,” Goorjian previously told Variety. “For Armenia to get a nomination, it would literally change the country.”

Watch the full conversation between Egoyan and Goorjian by clicking here.

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