“Aurora’s Sunrise” is an internationally animated documentary about Aurora Mardiganian.
It’s a true story about how a 14-year-old girl escaped death during the Armenian Genocide, fled to New York and became a silent film star.
“Aurora’s story is one of the rare ones,” said Inna Sahakyan, the film’s director.
The story becomes vivid again through the dynamic combination of mediums, animation, archival interviews with Aurora herself, and digitally restored footage.
Back in 2014, Sahakyan was doing research for a different project at the Zoryan Institute in Canada when she stumbled upon Aurora’s testimony recorded in 1984 when she was 84 years old.
In the footage, Aurora is holding a poster for “Auction of the Souls” from 1919, a silent 20-minute film that depicted the tragic events of the genocide. Aurora played herself, an orphan teenager, kidnapped, raped, and then sold into slavery. Through a series of miraculous events, she escaped and moved to New York when she was 17. She told her story to the newspapers and then on the silver screen, where she relived the unthinkable trauma.
“Auction of the Souls” was a box office hit, and Aurora was the most unlikely starlet of the silent film era in Hollywood. She also became the face of the aid group Near East Relief, which raised $116 million back then, and rescued more than 132,000 orphaned survivors just like Aurora.
Unfortunately, it was all short-lived.
Following World War I, expanding U.S. and Turkish relations caused any mention of the genocide to fade away, and most copies of “Auction of the Souls” disappeared.
Only in 1994, a month after Aurora’s death, fragments were discovered.
Sahakyan is one of the few filmmakers to bring it all back to life.
“It was not fair that her story was forgotten. It’s not forgotten only now, it was forgotten also when she was alive,” Sahakyan explained.
Going beyond the cold facts of the genocide, the director beautifully and uniquely tells the story of not a victim but a survivor of war.
“I really think that we need to have strong stories and strong role models from the past,” she said of the film. “We always hear these victim stories and it’s not really giving us trends to move on with our legacy and with our pain.”
“Aurora’s Sunrise” premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and Market in 2022.
It has received rave reviews and accolades from film festivals around the world.