April marks Armenian Heritage Month in Los Angeles County, and more broadly, April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day for Armenians worldwide — both at home and across the diaspora. It commemorates the more than 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide — orchestrated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 — and is observed as a day of mourning, as well as a celebration of Armenian culture, heritage and the ethnic group’s tenacious spirit.
While representation of Armenian narratives in film is lacking in mainstream entertainment, there are several underrated gems and long-hailed classics through which you can learn more about and celebrate Armenian heritage, from Sergei Parajanov’s poetic masterpiece “The Color of Pomegranates” to Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot indie “Tangerine.” Hailing from acclaimed international and US-based auteurs, TheWrap’s list covers a range of genres, including war dramas, documentaries and comedies — both old and new. Below, we outline 11 of the must-watch movies highlighting just a sliver of the singular and wide-ranging Armenian experience.
Armenfilm / Yerevan Film Studio
The Color of Pomegranates (1969)
Eschewing linear storytelling, Parajanov’s avant-garde magnum opus traces the fabled origin story and eventual demise of renowned 18th century Armenian ashugh Sayat-Nova. The film — which has long graced myriad “Best Movies of All Time” lists — weaves an intricate tapestry through Nova’s life, referencing his boyhood in Tbilisi, monasticism and eventual execution; however, more than that, it alludes to the collective suffering, endurance and triumph of Armenian people against persecution and oppression. If you only add one film to your viewing list from this article, let it be this one.
You can stream it on the Criterion Channel.
Shot entirely on three iPhone 5S smartphones, Sean Baker’s critically lauded “Tangerine” centers on the lives of two Black trans sex workers in Hollywood. One, Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just finished a month-long stint in prison and, upon release, discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her with a cis woman. Meanwhile, her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), gets sexually involved with a married, closeted Armenian cab driver named Razmik (Karren Karagulian). What follows is an intoxicating, orange-hued haze of a movie that is rich with culture and heart.
You can stream it on Netflix.
Red Tie Films
Lost and Found in Armenia (2012)
Featuring a pre-”Westworld” Angela Sarafyan, this light-hearted comedy from Gor Kirakosian follows the son of a US Senator, Bill (Jamie Kennedy), who is forced by his friends to vacation in Turkey. A parasailing accident crash-lands him in an Armenian village, where its residents accuse him of being a spy. Ani (Sarafyan), the only resident who can speak English, is the sole person who can translate for him and clear his name, and what follows is a romp with weight and heart that delves into the history of Armenia while offering a rom-com bend.
You can stream it on The Roku Channel, Tubi or Freevee.
Atom Egoyan’s historical drama explores the 1915 Armenian-led resistance and defense of Van through the lens of a family film crew working on a production loosely inspired by the events of the genocide. “Ararat” — which stars Charles Aznavour, Christopher Plummer, Eric Bogosian, Arsinée Khanjian, Bruce Greenwood and Elias Koteas — also explores the role of truth in art, as the movie traces the impact of the government of Turkey’s denial of the genocide’s happening.
You can rent the movie on Google Play, YouTube or Prime Video.
Without Gorky (2011)
Cosima Spender’s documentary “Without Gorky” traces the life of renowned Armenian American artist Arshile Gorky, also her grandfather, and his impact on his widow Agnes “Mougouch” Magruder and their descendants. Part of the early 20th century New York art movement alongside Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, Gorky and his work were a seminal influence on the Abstract Expressionist scene. Gorky, who was an Armenian refugee, often lied about his true origins and contended with the legacy of genocide — which also claimed his mother’s life — throughout his adulthood, which was cut short by suicide.
This independent documentary follows six Armenian Americans as they grapple with their identity and standing 100 years removed from the genocide. In addition to questions regarding the preservation of culture for future generations, the doc contends with the plentiful history of the Armenian people and what young people owe their ancestors. Among the subjects are a 108-year-old genocide survivor, Bogosian and numerous historians that delve into the timeline of the republic of Armenia millennia prior.
You can watch the film on certain PBS channels, at select screenings or buy it on DVD.
You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
Barry Levinson’s Emmy-winning docudrama stars Al Pacino as the controversial pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian, nicknamed Dr. Death for his public advocacy for and administration of euthanasia for terminally ill patients. The movie recounts Kevorkian’s numerous legal battles and stints in jail in his home state of Michigan, as well as the personal, generational connections he has to his medical practices, painting a complex portrait of a troubled man. Susan Sarandon, Danny Huston and John Goodman round out the cast, along with a young Adam Driver, who is completely unrecognizable as a patient named Glen Stetson.
You can stream it on HBO Max.
Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial & Depiction (2017)
“Intent to Destroy” utilizes archival footage, survivor testimony and historian analyses to examine the Armenian Genocide’s massive death toll, its subsequent denial worldwide and how it is depicted in film. Director Joe Berlinger also provides a behind-the-scenes look at “The Promise,” the 2016 genocide drama starring Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon and Sarafyan. Embedding himself into the production, Berlinger uses the film’s scenes to contextualize its historical foundation. For a wider commentary on the harms of genocide denial, you can also watch “Architects of Denial,” which was released the same year, on Tubi.
You can rent “Intent to Destroy” on Apple TV+ or Prime Video.
I Am Not Alone (2019)
In 2018, a wave of nonviolent anti-government protests in Armenia — later dubbed the Velvet Revolution — swept the nation. Frustrated by former president Serzh Sargsyan administration’s corruption and descent into quasi-dictatorship, people of all backgrounds took to the streets to call for a peaceful change in power. “I Am Not Alone” tells the story of activist Nikol Pashinyan, now Prime Minister, who helped spur and lead the demonstrations. While his effectiveness at ushering Armenia into a new age of relevance in global politics is heatedly debated among its residents, especially regarding the defeating result of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, it is impossible to deny the historic nature of such a turnover.
You can stream it on Tubi.
Georgian-Film / Mosfilm
Widely beloved by pretty much every Armenian anywhere, this Soviet-era buddy comedy follows local Georgian pilot Mimino (Vakhtang Kikabidze) as he dreams of flying planes for major international airlines. To realize his dreams, he journeys to Moscow where he befriends another man from the South Caucasus, the Armenian truck driver Rubik (Frunzik Mkrtchyan). In the interest of not giving anything away, suffice it to say that many hijinks and misadventures (as well as forever quotable dialogue) ensue.
You can find the movie on YouTube.
Fish Eye Art Cultural Foundation
Set in the late 1980s during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, “Tevanik” unfolds through the perspective of three interconnected Armenian youths whose lives are torn apart when war lands on the doorstep of their Artsakh village. The film, which won the top prize at Armenia’s Golden Apricot Film Festival, tells the story of Aram (Henrik Shahbazyan), whose family is torn apart due to prejudices against his Azerbaijani mother; of Astghik, whose life is marked by a loss on the battlefield; and of Tevanik, who becomes a part of the war that robs him of his adolescence.