A still image from the set of 'Amerikatsi' in Armenia. Image Credit: via Reuters

A heart-warming story of a man jailed for wearing a tie has become the first Armenian film to make it onto the Oscar’s shortlist, in the international feature category.

“Most of the films that have been made about Armenia really tend to revolve around the genocide. I wanted to make a film that would be enjoyable for Armenians and something that could relate to non-Armenians,” said US actor Michael A. Goorjian, who has directed and written the film. He also stars in it.

Shot in Armenia with a mostly local cast and crew, ‘Amerikatsi’ (American in Armenian) is also an attempt to rebuild the country’s film industry, which lost its way after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

“What the film is about is survival and resilience. Despite the setting, it’s very hopeful and playful,” said Goorjian, whose late father was Armenian.

It tells the story of Charlie, an American who repatriates to then Soviet Armenia after World War II and finds himself in prison because of his tie.

From his cell, Charlie realises he can see inside an apartment nearby and lives vicariously through the life of the couple there.

Making the film was itself a test of resourcefulness.

Filming, interrupted because of the Covid-19 pandemic, took about seven months to complete, wrapping in July 2020 as border clashes broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“We had cast and crew that went and fought in that war. And so it was a challenge to make this film for sure. But all the obstacles we faced, I would say actually made it a better film,” Goorjian said.

As international tensions and economic downturn dominate the headlines, ‘Amerikatsi’, which premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2022, has tapped into a human need for positivity.

“I’ve found with the film, people come up to me all the time and say ‘I miss feeling this way after a movie, feeling good’,” Goorjian said.

He will find out if ‘Amerikatsi’ has made it from the shortlist and onto the 2024 Academy Awards nominations on Jan. 23.