LOS ANGELES — A student from the University of Southern California who describes herself as a descendant of survivor’s of the Armenian Genocide shared the top prize at this year’s Student Voices Short Film Contest sponsored by USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual Learning and Education.
Syuzanna Petrosyan and fellow student Greg Irwin won the award March 6 for their short film “Play for your Life,” which looks at the orchestras organized by the Nazis in German concentration camps during World War II.
Petrosyan said the film was inspired by Alice Herz-Somner, a pianist who, until her death at 110 in February, was the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Music factors heavily in Herz-Somner’s testimony in the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, which contains nearly 52,000 recorded testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.
In April 2010, The Institute signed a historic agreement with the Armenian Film Foundation and the late filmmaker Dr. J. Michael Hagopian to incorporate 400 testimonies of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The interviews, which are set to come out in April 2015, will be used for educational purposes through the Visual History Archive, where they will be stored in perpetuity.
Petrosyan said her interest in entering Student Voices comes from her own Armenian background and interest in exploring the various dimensions of genocides. As a public diplomacy master’s candidate, she said, “it is important to understand not only the big picture and history of genocides, but also to observe the smaller and personal stories of survivor’s of the biggest crimes in history.”
The film was the second movie featuring Herz-Somner to win an award in one week. She is also the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life.
Student Voices is a chance for all USC graduate and undergraduate students, regardless of major, to create short films that incorporate survivor’s testimony from the Visual History Archive.
Shirin Raban won the Viewer’s Choice Award for her film “There is No Other Way.” Rebecca Baugh received an honorable mention for “Love, Noemi.”
Photo: Top prize winners Syuzanna Petrosyan and Greg Irwin with USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen D. Smith