First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
An idea came to filmmaker Stephanie Ayanian on the 99th anniversary of the Armenian genocide of 1915. With the centennial of that tragedy approaching, she set out to make a feature-length documentary film exploring the ways that the Armenian American identity had evolved 100 years later.
The granddaughter of genocide survivors, her film — fittingly titled “What Will Become of Us” — follows the story of six Armenian Americans at the time of the centennial. Interviewing artists, musicians, activists and comedians alike, Ayanian and her co-director Joseph Myers sought to capture how their subjects embrace their identities as they grapple with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
In the film, the interwoven stories build on one another to create a narrative where the past and future are in constant tension.
“This is not a film about genocide, but about how to thrive despite it,” Ayanian said. “This is a story relatable to all immigrant communities who have faced past horrors. How can a culture pay respect to its past without being limited by it?”
Ayanian is making her way from Pennsylvania to Burbank next week to share the film with the community in the capstone event of Burbank Public Library’s annual Burbank Reads program.
The library will hold a screening of the film on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. After, Ayanian and Myers will join Armenian scholar Shushan Karapetian and comedian Lory Tatoulian for a panel discussion of the issues explored in the film.
“Burbank has a wonderful Armenian community to boast about. I’m so excited to meet the people of Burbank who are able to come and talk,” Ayanian told the Leader.
Ayanian is a California-born, Pennsylvania-raised film producer and director. In addition to “What Will Become of Us” she has produced “Kinderwald,” an official selection of Munich International, Seattle International, Napa Valley and Slamdance film festivals.
After receiving her MFA in film from Temple University, Ayanian worked as a senior producer and director for PBS and Penn State Public Broadcasting where she was the producer and co-director of the award-winning film “Liquid Assets: The Story of Our Water Infrastructure.” She worked making documentaries with public broadcasting until her first daughter was born. That’s when she co-founded Storyshop, the independent production house behind “What Will Become of Us.”
Though production for the film began in 2015, post-production and distribution for the film took place over the following years. Ayanian was finally slated to present the premiere of the film live at PBS stations nationwide in March 2020.
“Then the world shut down,” Ayanian said.
Nationwide quarantines scattered Ayanian’s live premier plans. But despite COVID-related turmoil, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to get the film in front of audiences.
“Stations were closed. They were just running whatever they had. For the stations that did broadcast the film during the pandemic shutdown, we actually had a very captive audience,” Ayanian said. In some Southern California locales, “What Will Become of Us” garnered No. 1 ratings for its time slot.
“We were hearing from audiences that it was a delight to see these stories shared on their local stations. … Because of all of that, this is going to be the second time I’ve ever seen it with an audience. I’m really excited to bring it to Burbank,” she added.
Myers, co-director of “What Will Become of Us,” is also a panelist for next week’s screening. His work has been seen on PBS, WORLD, NETA, APT and the Discovery Networks among others.
“It’s going to be nice to be there with my filmmaking partner, Joseph Meyers,” Ayanian told the Leader. “We rarely get to be on a panel together talking about our work. In filming ‘What Will Become of Us’ he was the director of photography and the co-director, and he was making half of the decisions.”
Ayanian hopes the screening will be an opportunity for the Burbank community to learn and celebrate the creative and social achievements of Armenian Americans through the subjects of the film.
“For Armenian Americans, the ‘long shadow’ of genocide is paralyzing. In an effort to preserve what was saved, successive generations hold fast to a pre-genocide conception of culture — an idea frozen in time,” Ayanian said in a press statement.
“The genocide is still a defining moment in our history and it shouldn’t be ignored. This film gives us an opportunity to talk about who we are now and celebrate who we have become,” Ayanian told the Leader.