by Rachel Rousseau
Araz Artinian, a 1998 graduate in Communication Studies, has produced a prize-winning documentary about the 1988 Armenian earthquake.
Her film, Surviving on the Richter Scale, has won five awards, including the Best Documentary Award at the 1998 Canadian Student Film Festival, which is part of Montreal's World Film Festival, a bronze plaque at the 47th Columbus International Film and Video Festival, in Ohio, and most recently, a documentary award at a festival in Fort Lauderdale. It has been shown twice on RDI, the French-language information channel, and will appear again this year. She also has a contract with a distribution company to promote her film in Europe and the United States.
The documentary tells the story of 12 survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people in less than a minute on December 7, 1988. Artinian's father, an Armenian architect living in Montreal, wrote about it in a community newspaper at the time. "My father would come back from work and give me all the articles that were published in the papers and tell me to classify them," she said.
These images stayed in Artinian's mind for 10 years, and in her final year at Concordia, she decided to put her knowledge to work. She flew to Armenia and stayed for a month, interviewing and filming. She saw pain and suffering, even 10 years after the earthquake.
She came back to Canada confused about what to put in her documentary, but her father advised her to "bring out the positive," and after hours of screening her footage, she agreed. "Maybe two per cent of the population lives with hope," she said, "and you tell yourself you have no right to show the negativity when a few people are trying to go on with their lives."
Martin Pashayan is one of those people. He was a schoolteacher who saw his students die, then learned that his wife and children had also perished. However, soon after the quake, he started teaching young survivors in tents, and was finally able to open a school.
Artinian also met with Marineh Otarian and Aram Azbekian, two young survivors who had limbs amputated and were brought to Montreal for rehabilitation. In the documentary, they talk about their pain and suffering, but 10 years later, they are back in Armenia, going on with their lives. Azbekian even says that the ordeal made him decide to become a doctor.
Artinian presented a 15-minute rough-cut of her documentary as part of a course in her final year, and finished the 45-minute project on her own. She would like to make another documentary, but she is still struggling to find a job to finance it, and often visits Concordia's Communication Studies Department to check the bulletin boards for job postings. She's grateful for the support of the staff there. "They are like your parents. They are so proud of you."