The documentary “Aurora’s Sunrise” shares the great and terrible story of Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian survivor of the genocide that began in 1915. Aurora was 14 years old and living in a small town in the Ottoman Empire when the violence started. Her peaceful life was obliterated when her father and brother were rounded up and murdered by Ottoman Turk soldiers. Aurora was then forced into a death march across the desert of what is now Syria. She survived weeks of the march and two years of subsequent violence. Aurora witnessed unimaginable atrocities: rivers teeming with corpses, children begging for their lives, bandits pillaging the caravans of survivors.
Aurora escaped these horrors through the aid of Armenian resistance groups. Her survival already made her a rarity, but Aurora’s most improbable achievement was that she was able to create a contemporary record of her own memories. This film follows Aurora’s story after she resettled in America and starred in the 1919 silent film, “Auction of Souls,” which dramatized the events of her own life. She never stopped sharing her memories, including in interviews that were filmed decades later.
Using many of the materials Aurora left behind, the documentary’s director, Inna Sahakyan, crafts a cohesive narrative of the woman’s life. Clips from “Auction of Souls” and footage from Aurora’s later interviews support animated re-enactments of her recorded memories. Despite the presence of material that is more than 100 years old, the parts using cutouts and rotoscoping (redolent of the 2008 war docudrama “Waltz With Bashir) are what feel the most dated. But even with that herky-jerky animation, the effect of Sahakyan’s compilation is still admirably seamless, and she creates a reconstructed, yet still personal record of a long-unrecognized genocide. The film’s coherence is a reflection of both the skill of the filmmaker, and the heroic efforts of Aurora herself to ensure that her view of history would not be forgotten.
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