From the Vault: Active Participation

In his career, James Card, a leader in film preservation, discussed the notion of active participation in cinema.

In Seductive Cinema, a fitting title for silent films, he points out that the cinema from that time period was “a matter of participation.”

In other words, whereas silent films required audiences to participate through the reading of intertitles, sound films – or talkies – require less participation on the part of its audience. In the current state of cinema, films more or less wash over audiences, who have become much more passive.

There is less urgency in participating as spectators. The loss that took place with the transition into sound films was this kind of spectatorship and active involvement on the part of audiences.

The notion of active participation can also be applied outside of cinema; while James Card discussed how the participation of the audience is crucial to our film experience, we can expand on the idea of active participation for our everyday lives. Gevorg Martirosyan, a pre-medical student at the University of California, Irvine, has applied this belief in his own life and has made an effort to have a role in his community rather than being a passive spectator.

The 21-year-old, who was born and raised in Yerevan, frequented every major museum during his childhood, which laid the foundation for his interest in his culture. This interest had a critical role when he studied abroad in the United Kingdom last summer.

It’s during this time when he visited museums and discovered the fragments of the iconic state of the goddess Anahit. The goddess is a symbol of fertility, healing, wisdom, water and war. It’s an important part of our history, mythology and culture, but Gevorg noticed that the statue was sitting “confined within the few sentences of description.” In addition, the statue’s current location in the United Kingdom robs the Armenian people of the artifiacts that represent their culture.

Gevorg quickly realized the artifacts deserved to be relocated back to its historic homeland, where the sentimental value of the goddess statue is worth far more to Armenians than to the visitors of the British Museum. Gevorg’s refusal of being passive in his subject fueled his desire to create a campaign and petition to bring the statue back to Armenia. In this sense, Gevorg, unlike thousands of other tourists who have visited the museum and statue, became an active partipcant in his community.

The petition for the goddess’ repatriation has since gained over a thousand signatures. The goal of the campaign is to transfer the statue to the History Museum of Armenia. In doing so, the museum will be involved in the preservation of the statue. This will also allow Armenians to visit the artifacts in their own museums and galleries without having to travel outside of the country.

Gevorg’s enthusiasm, however, has received wide criticism, particularly because of the pagan beliefs that the goddess represents. “The change in our belief did not change our history and since the image of Anahit is still immersed in the Armenian culture, displaying this historic treasure in its original cultural context will allow it to be better understood,” he states.

The undertaking of such a campaign is also plausible. There have been numerous cases where other countries have succesffuly recovered thousands of ancient artifacts. In ensuring the return of the artifacts, however, obtaining signatures are crucial. “This signature campaign gives the diasporan youth the opportunity to be far from home but still show strong passion for their cultural artifacts, which shows the level of understanding about our Armenian history beyond our borders,” he remarks.

Gevorg has reached out to the diaspora for the cause. “If you are a Christian who opposes pagan beliefs, do it in the name of the first Christian King Trdat who praised Anahit as the “…the glory of our nation and vivifier…mother of all chastity,” if you are a historian, do it for the sake of preserving a nation’s heritage and most importantly, if you are a common individual, like I am, start a promotion and see how people will be encouraged to help you.”

James Card believed audiences were better specatators when films encouraged them to be active participants. Their presence and commitment in the theatre in turn influenced the cinema of this time.

Gevorg Martirosyan explains the importance of being involved with our community. “The diasporan youth is like a muscle and Anahit’s campaign is an exercise; if you do not gradually strengthen this muscle, you cannot lift the heavy weight at the end of the road.” If audiences are more active in their community, we could develop a well-respected film culture. The same belief applies for our community as a whole. The diaspora community, in particular, should continuously participate in the world.