LOS ANGELES—New Jersey native and filmmaker Jon Milano is honoring his connection to the Armenian community with “Straw Dolls,” a film that focuses on the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
“Having grown up with such a strong Armenian community in New Jersey, this is a subject that is close to my heart,” Milano said. “Your friends have influence on you, whether you want to admit it or not. And though I wasn’t born into the culture you certainly adapt and understand the history.”
Milano recently detailed the two-year process of producing and directing the film. “It is only controversial when people make it controversial. It is true that the Turkish government has not recognized this atrocity; however, we did not set out to make a film to protest the Turkish government but rather tell a story that Hollywood is unwilling to tell.”
Milano said he wanted to make sure that the film was 100 percent historically accurate and that the stories he told were true. “We took very little creative liberties with the film, knowing full well that when we make this film, it must be rooted in truth. Hence why the film took two years of research.”
The research uncovered hundreds of journals, photographs, survivor interviews, and academic books. And when Douglas Kalajian, author of Stories My Father Never Finished Telling, became involved, the team was able to uncover rare stories that stood alone among the atrocities. “We wanted to find stand-alone stories, slices of a much larger tale,” Milano said.
The film stars award-winning Iranian-Armenian actress Mary Apick and Marco Khan(ian) (“10,000 BC” (2008) and “God’s Not Dead” (2014)), with a full ensemble of young Armenian actors. Once the cast was secured, Milano explained, finding Armenia in Southern California was the next task at hand. “We didn’t anticipate it to be an easy feat, but we also didn’t expect it to take as long as it did.” After 36 location scouts encompassing all of Los Angeles County, the team expanded its search north of the city.
“We had toured numerous movie ranches in the area, but everyone of them either didn’t meet our needs or out-weighed our budget. But then we found it, and in Simi Valley of all places.” The location is not a stranger to Hollywood, as it was home to Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (2012) and “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013). “Needless to say we felt in good hands.”
Photography of the film was completed in November 2014 and is slated to premiere in Los Angeles and Yerevan on April 24, 2015.
“Regardless of the outcome, we made this film not only for ourselves but for the Armenian people,” Milano said.