Pomegranate Film Festival

5 films to watch at the 2011 Pomegranate Film Festival

For the sixth year in a row, the Pomegranate Film Festival is bringing roughly a dozen Armenian features — and even more shorts — to Toronto audiences. Opening on Thursday night with a programme of short films followed by the romantic thriller The Jubilee Visitor, the festival will continue throughout the weekend until Sunday, screening films at both the Regent and the Hamazkayin Theatre.

To say that every film the programmers have selected will be akin to a ripe, juicy pomegranate pearl is not only tacky, but likely exceedingly optimistic. Fortunately, a high percentage of the titles playing this weekend do appear to be very strong, and some even have a bit of buzz carried over from playing in other prestigious festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and the Berlinale. To help narrow down the crop to the absolute essentials, here are my five top picks from Pomegranate's appetizing lineup:

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Friday, December 2 at 7:10PM, Regent Theatre)

After a strong reception at Cannes from the Un Certain Regard section and a trifecta of sold-out TIFF screenings last September, Robert Guediguian must be feeling pretty good about his film as it heads into a theatrical run in 2012. A French filmmaker, Guediguian has been addressing Armenian subjects throughout his career, including Army of Crime, which was a Gala screening just last year in Pomegranate's programme. Kilimanjaro is a Marseilles-set thriller about a couple who, on the cusp of departing for Africa, are intercepted at their home by a team of armed robbers. Tackling the current topical crisis of middle-class identity, the film has been enthralling audiences at every screening so far, and is emerging as a festival circuit favourite.

HERE (Friday, December 2 at 9:20PM, Regent Theatre)

Hypnotizing and baffling Sundance audiences last January, it turned around and did the very same thing three weeks later in Berlin. With HERE (the all-caps is apparently intentional), Braden King has created a fusion of hot contemporary art topics, like intercultural spectatorship and mapping, with a cinematic romance that transpires between a cartographer and a local, Armenian photographer. Oh, and there are acid trip-inspired avant-garde interludes that pop in intermittently for good measure, if only to remind us where King's ambitions lie. It's not surprising to learn that the already deeply complex world of this film spreads out even further into a live multimedia art installation. Since director Braden King will be present for a post-screening Q&A, it'd be pretty silly to miss this event, as it will provide rare and valuable insight into this truly unique cinematic experiment.

My Grandma's Tattoos (Saturday, December 3 at 12PM, Hamazkayin Theatre)

Allegedly deemed to be the first genocide documentary told from a female perspective, My Grandma's Tattoos just had its world premiere last week at the Amsterdam International Film Festival before its North American premiere right here in Toronto with this screening. In this unique and no-doubt stirring documentary portrait, director Suzanne Khardalian turns her camera toward her heavily-tatted grandmother, diving into the noxious pool of ink that rests permanently beneath her skin. Her story unfolds to detail how she was kidnapped and forced to work as a concubine, not to mention the source, secrets, and meaning of the drawings on her body. The director will be present for a Q&A that, I have no qualms in predicting, will be a harrowing discussion.

Anduni (Sunday, December 4 at 10AM, Hamazkayin Theatre)

Described as "a film that young Diasporan Armenians, as well as their parents, will easily relate to," Samira Radsi's feature-length debut is about 28 year-old Belinda, who "does not dare reveal her German boyfriend to her family while her Aunt goes to great lengths to find her a nice Armenian man to marry including a recruitment trip to Armenia." Pitched as a fine balance between sentiment and warm comedy, it's actually a characteristically light comedy with uncharacteristically affecting moments in the home stretch. Already set for theatrical release throughout Europe early next year, no North American distribution is currently in sight, so catch it while you can.

The Son of the Olive Merchant (Sunday, December 4 at 6:10PM, Hamazkayin Theatre)

Presented in conjunction with the Zoryan Institute, The Son of the Olive Merchant is, like Suzanne Khardalian's film mentioned above, a documentary that tackles head-on the 1915 Armenian Genocide via one of the director's grandparents. Combining non-fiction material with animation techniques, filmmaker Mathieu Zeitindjioglou turns footage from his honeymoon into a cultural survey disguised as a road trip. Navigating audiences through Ankara, Erzurum, Istanbul, Moush and Van, the film questions how Turkey has, whether willingly or not, chosen to forget an unforgettable historical occurrence, wrestling with the ambivalent value that such ignorance can present. The film will be followed by an essential Q&A with Zeitindjioglou.

The Pomegranate Film Festival runs from December 1-4 at both the Regent Theatre and the Hamazkayin Theatre. Individual tickets are $10, and can be purchased - along with full festival passes and combo packs - either online or over the phone by calling Mihran at 647-868-9442 or Hovsep at 416-838-4135. For more information, visit the Pomegranate Film Festival website.

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