The Art of Filmmaking and Performance

May 29, 2023



On Friday May 12th, AGBU Toronto hosted a panel discussion on the “Art of Filmmaking and Performance. The purpose of the two hour event, with a full house in attendance, was to showcase the outstanding talents of Armenian creators/artists.

The panel was led by Silva Basmajian, veteran filmmaker and producer.

Arshile Egoyan, a filmmaker, writer, director and producer, is currently in pre-production on his second short film “Before They Joined Us,” which will see completion before he begins a Master of Fine Arts and Screenwriting at the American Film Institute in August.

Kamee Abrahamian has a background in visual arts, performance, film and immersive storytelling. They have created, produced, toured and presented a vast body of work internationally. Their feminist-based work touches on the issues of gender equality and justice.

Lara Arabian, a performer, actor, director and writer, recently premiered her multimedia and multilingual one-woman show titled “Siranoush.” It showcases her desire to dig deeper into her cultural roots. The show was welcomed by sold out audiences.

“Arts are our bloodline. This is how we show who we are, and particularly for Armenians, it’s a way for us to let the rest of the world know about our history, who we are as human beings and as creative entities,” said Basmajian.

Each of the panelists showcase a unique approach to their work and are in various stages of their career, allowing them to paint a complete picture of the highs and lows of the industry.

The Start

Each of the panelists shared their stories on the unique paths they took that sparked their careers in the industry.

“I was that nerdy kid who would practice acting in front of the mirror. I thought this is what everyone did to amuse themselves. So, from a very young age, it was something that I wanted to do,” said Arabian.

Egoyan, on the other hand, had a different route to the industry. “I vehemently rejected it. I was so used to people making the assumption that I would go into film that I decided that I wouldn’t go into film at all. It wasn’t about what I wanted, it was about making sure that everyone else was wrong,” he said. “Everyone ended up being right, and I was the one that was wrong.”He discovered his love for film after writing his first script.

Abrahamian always found themselves immersed in different types of art, whether it was painting, ballet, or film. So, taking on the role of an artist was only natural.

“I think the first moment I identified as an artist was when I, for the first time, found an Armenian woman in history who was an artist. I discovered Armen Ohanian, this very enigmatic, mysterious person. And I became very obsessed with her,” she said.


Egoyan’s “Absence” is a short film that was filmed during the pandemic. It came about after he formed a close relationship with somebody who had a disability.

“When we meet people in a social environment we find common ground. In this case, I had to find his ground,” said Egoyan.

Egoyan wanted to portray not only the life of someone who had a disability that made it difficult to communicate with others, but also not to present the lives of the people surrounding that person in “rose-coloured glasses.”

When Egoyan was writing this film, it was important to him to present the characters in the film correctly. He approached Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital to have a better idea of the research, challenges and experiences of patients and their families, reflecting that in the film.

Arabian’s “Siranoush” taps into themes of ancestral knowledge, Armenian diaspora and female empowerment. The performance is based on an Armenian actress, born in the 19th century, named Merope Sahaki Kantarjian, otherwise known as Siranoush.

“Information about her work and her life was incredibly hard to find. I asked around. No one knew about her. And that became one of the driving forces for me when I created this project,” said Arabian.

Siranoush was the first woman in the west to play Hamlet, said Arabian. She played over 300 roles in nearly 12 countries. Siranush started out as an actress and later an opera singer for the Armenian theater companies in her hometown.“In the piece, I perform some of the roles that Siranoush did. So, the story is about Lara trying to find Siranoush, and then Siranoush appears,” said Arabian.

Abrahamian’s “Dear Armen” is a play that has themes of Armenian culture and Queer culture. The story is based on Armen Ohanian’s memoirs, an Armenian performer, dancer and actress. Born Sophia Pirboudaghian in Shamakha in the 19th century, she adopted the name Armen as her stage name.

The play presents a character named Garo who is a researcher and writer. Garo is interested in the story of Armen Ohanian and wants to find more information about the mysterious artist. As they follow the story of Armen, they discover more of themselves, bringing up themes of family, drama, trauma and history.

“She was this very interesting character who ran in these circles that I never imagined an Armenian woman existing in,” said Abrahamian. “She was a complex Armenian woman, which I thought was incredibly interesting.”


Egoyan has three completed projects where he took on the roles of writer, director and producer. “Easily, my least favorite of those three is producing, and yet where I’m at in my career, it’s completely necessary,” he said.

Egoyan said producing and the creative side of a project go hand in hand. Each detail in the final product can be traced back to a decision to allocate time and resources to that one element, he said.

“Unless you have a sense of what you’re dealing with financially and practically, you have no control over what you’re able to do creatively,” said Egoyan.

For Arabian, finding collaborators that support your ideas and projects is a fundamental aspect of the industry. “I know I would not have been able to do my shows without the people that I had on that team,” she said.

Arabian also said finding mentors, talking to people within the industry and being part of the “ecosystem” are necessary skills for an artist.

Abrahamian took a different approach. Staying away from exposure to the highs and lows of the industry allowed them to listen to their intuition, not influenced by other people’s paths.

“It was the naïveté that I needed to do something really insane – follow this path – because I think if I had dived into the backend of it and seen how hard and challenging it is, I would have run the other way,” they said. “But, I have come to learn that if you’re not willing to put yourself in the line of fire, then this isn’t the industry for you.”

Future Projects

Abrahamian is working on a series. After noticing that there are no Armenian, South Asian or Middle Eastern science fiction stories, Abrahamian decided to be the one to create one. They created a story world set in the future. Their project “Ensouled” is set in the same world. Funded by the Canada Arts Council & Ontario Arts Council, the story follows a character who wants to unearth stories and knowledge of their ancestors by listening to plants.

Arabian is working on a French play titled “Convictions” that will have its world premiere in France at the end of September 2023 and at Canadian Stage in October 2023. The story follows the daily life of a Lebanese-Canadian family along with the evolution of their traditions, religion, challenges, memories and commitments.

Egoyan is working on his film titled “Before They Joined Us.” The film follows the journey of two Armenian sisters and their parents as they leave behind Beirut and head to Montreal, facing struggles as they try to rebuild their life. The film is currently in its casting phase, he said.

The audience members, ranging from art enthusiasts to aspiring filmmakers, were actively engaged in the discussions on the different aspects of art and film. Many found inspiration in the panelists’ stories and continued to crowd the panelists after the panel discussions and Q-and-A session. The lively exchange of ideas and the panelists’ knowledge and experience left the audience feeling enlightened and motivated to explore their own artistic endeavours. It was an event that fostered a sense of community and sparked a renewed passion for the arts and filmmaking.