IDFA Review: Aurora’s Sunrise

Although Turkey still refuses to acknowledge that it happened, the Armenian Genocide was one of the lowest points in European history. In the years running up to World War I, the Ottoman Empire deported well over a million Armenians and forced them on death marches across the Syrian desert. Those who survived were taken to concentration camps. They were routinely starved, raped, robbed and murdered. Even sold into slavery.

In 1919, the world premiere of Auction of Souls took place in New York City. It starred a teenage Armenian girl, Aurora Mardiganian, who played herself as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. The film, although subsequently lost, was a hit and she became a star. As the massacres continued, she reluctantly became the spokesperson for her people. Inna Sahakyan’s new documentary, Aurora’s Sunrise, tells her story.

Using what remains of Auction of Souls, which was rediscovered after her death, and splicing it into animation, Aurora’s Sunrise tells the tale of a survivor using her own words. This is augmented with interviews with Mardiganian during her later life. Her memoir, Ravished Armenia, also lays at the heart of the film. Aurora’s Sunrise is carefully and painstakingly crafted, making for an informative, moving and entertaining watch.  

Aurora’s Sunrise screens at IDFA.

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