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Director of '1915' on growing up with Armenian genocide as family history

This weekend marks the opening of
This weekend marks the opening of "1915," a new movie about the Armenian genocide by Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian.
1915 The Movie

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Turkey was on the defensive Wednesday, lashing out at both Pope Francis and the European Union's legislature for their descriptions of the Ottoman-era killing of Armenians as genocide.  Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the pontiff has joined "an evil front" plotting against Turkey... Later Wednesday, the European Parliament triggered more Turkish ire by passing a non-binding resolution to commemorate "the centenary of the Armenian genocide." In a quick response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the resolution was an attempt to rewrite history and threatens to harm bilateral relations between the EU and Turkey. — Associated Press, April 15, 2015

This month, most of the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, in which the Turks killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. This weekend marks the opening of a new movie that tells the story again, but through a production of a play staged at the historic Los Angeles Theatre in downtown LA.

Alec Mouhibian and Garin Hovannisian's "1915" opens this weekend in Southern California and next weekend in New York, and Hovannisian came to the Off-Ramp studio to talk with host John Rabe about the film.

(Filmmaker Garin Hovannisian at the Mohn Broadcast Center. Credit: John Rabe)

How did you first learn of the genocide?

"I came from a very special family that was connected directly with the Armenian genocide. My grandfather, Richard Hovannisian, who has taught history at UCLA for the past 50 years, and who is one of the founding scholars of Armenian studies in the United States, made it no option for me not to know. The way he came to discover it from his own father, who was a survivor, was very different. His father survived, escaped, moved to the San Joaquin Valley, and the instinct of many people of his generation was to forget, to overcome the past. But many nights, Kaspar, my great-grandfather, could be heard screaming in his sleep."

How did they describe the genocide to a child?

"There was this mythic land called Armenia, with a wonderful mountain called Ararat, where the Bible says Noah's arc landed, a land where Christianity first proclaimed. But for some reason, that land didn't exist, that land was destroyed, it was a land of ruined churches, it was a ghost land. And so the stories that my father would tell me deep into the night always began with 'there was this land called Armenia.' To me, it was the place of my dreams. It was the place that, having been born in Los Angeles, growing up in Los Angeles, we would return to."

Tell us about "1915," your movie.

"This movie follows a mysterious, intense theater director, who on one day, April 24, 2015, which happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, believes that if he brings the right cast together, and if he stages this play to perfection, he can actually bring the ghosts of the Armenian genocide back to life. So in an age when nobody believes in the theater anymore, this one theater director is on the mission of his life."

Watch the trailer for "1915"

For much more from our interview with Garin Hovannisian, listen to the audio interview near  the top of the screen.

"1915" opens Friday in Hollywood, Glendale, Beverly Hills, Encino, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Rancho Palos Verdes, and Whittier; and April 25 at the Moscow Cinema in Yerevan, Armenia.