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Aurora’s Sunrise

July 11, 2023 | 7:00 pm

The Nancy Tafeen Global Film Series

The theme of this year’s series is “Through a Female Lens”

“Throughout the world, the male-dominated field of film directing is slowly changing. Women are writing, directing and producing more films than ever before. Our series will highlight four outstanding examples of a feminine perspective being brought to cinematic storytelling.” — Dale Pollock
All films in the series feature an introduction and a post-film Q&A with curator Dale Pollock.


Aurora’s Sunrise


  • In Armenian/English/Turkish/ Kurdish/German with English subtitles

  • Armenia/Germany/Lithuania, unrated, directed by Inna Sahakyan, 2022, documentary/animation, 96 minutes

  • At only 14 years old, Aurora lost everything during the horror of the Armenian genocide. Two years later, through luck and extraordinary courage, she escaped to New York, where her story became a media sensation. Starring as herself in Auction of Souls, an early Hollywood blockbuster, Aurora became the face of one of the largest charity campaigns in American history. With a blend of vivid animation, interviews with Aurora herself, and 18 minutes of surviving footage from her lost silent epic, Aurora’s Sunrise revives a forgotten story of survival.

Canadian Brass
Canadian Brass

Director’s Note — Inna Sahakyan

The Armenian genocide is the enduring pain of my nation. It is my family’s pain, and it is my own pain. Though I always wanted to, I was wary of making a film about it. I was afraid to be overly sentimental, overly emotional. I was afraid of telling stories that only confirmed Armenians as a nation of victims with no historical agency and nothing but tragedy running through our veins. That is, until I stumbled upon an interview with Aurora Mardiganian while going through archival interviews with Armenian Genocide survivors at the Zoryan Institute.

I was mesmerized the first time I watched it. While painful to hear, the elderly woman appeared to grow more and more youthful as she spoke. Through her words and expressions, an incredible but ordinary heroism shone: this woman survived a genocide but refused to be a victim. She refused to be reduced to an object of history. This is the character I wanted to build in Aurora’s Sunrise, resilient, powerful and heartwarming all at once.

My mission was to create a film taking audiences beyond the cold facts of the genocide, so I decided on a dynamic combination of mediums: animation, archival interviews with Aurora Mardiganian, and digitally-restored footage from Aurora’s 1919 film Auction of Souls. The majority of the film’s runtime is animation. Animation is a very powerful medium for portraying something as difficult as trauma. It explicitly portrays the representation of an event and not the event itself, bridges this distance, and allows for the viewer to be deeply engaged with the narrative and thematic core of the story. At the same time, animation is a medium that can communicate not only the colors of the story, but even its smells, tastes, and textures. It becomes the soul of the film, and lets Aurora’s now forgotten story become vivid again. It goes further than reproducing the events: it interprets them, like our brain does with memories, and allows symbols and motifs to speak loudly instead of drowning them in the utter realism of hundreds of details.

Of course, the danger of animation is that it may produce a sense of unreality — and this is why it is so crucial that the film also features archival footage of the real Aurora and that of her film: to let the woman and her work speak for itself and to remind the audience that all this really did happen.

Above all, I believe this film is important because in Aurora Mardiganian’s story we see a brave young Armenian woman who, despite enduring genocide, hunger, slavery, and exploitation, refused to be a victim. She refused to be swept away by the tides of history. It’s a timeless story of the resilience of the human spirit, the power of hope, and the importance of never giving up. In our evermore uncertain world, this kind of story should be told.

LOCATION: Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts, 733 Rivers St., Boone, NC 28608

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Box Office at theschaefercenter@appstate.edu or call 800-841-2787 or 828-262-4046.

ACCOMMODATION STATEMENT: Appalachian is committed to providing an inclusive experience for individuals with disabilities. If accommodations are needed in order to fully participate on the basis of a disability, contact the Office of Disability Resources (828.262.3056). It is recommended that accommodation requests be made two weeks prior to the event.


Tuesday, July 11, 2023 | 7pm (with pre-film introduction)

Meet the Curator — Dale Pollock

Dale M. Pollock, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, received a BA in Anthropology from Brandeis University in 1972 and a MS in Communications from San Jose State University. In 1977, he became the head film critic for Daily Variety until he was hired by the Los Angeles Times to be their chief entertainment correspondent. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in the early 1980s and wrote Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas in 1983, which has sold more than 150,000 copies and remains in print. In 1985, Pollock joined David Geffen’s company as a development executive, where he discovered the scripts for Beetlejuice, The Burbs and Universal Soldier.  He joined A&M Films as vice president in charge of production, and was named president in 1990, producing such films as The Beast, The Mighty Quinn, A Midnight Clear and Mrs. Winterbourne. Pollock ran his own film company, Peak Productions, for 10 years, producing the box office hit Set It Off. He co-founded the producing program at the American Film Institute in 1995. In 1999, he became Dean of the School of Filmmaking at the (then) North Carolina School of the Arts, stepping down in 2006 to become Professor of Cinema Studies. He was awarded Emeritus status in 2019 and served as Interim Dean for nine months in 2021. Pollock was awarded an Endowed Professorship in Film in his name at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking in 2014 and is the 2016 recipient of the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence. He also received the 2020 Arts Council of Winston Salem’s Annual Award, its highest honor. Pollock’s first work of fiction, Chopped: A Novel, was published in March 2023, and is available on Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.


July 11, 2023
7:00 pm
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