AU senior wins national film competition
Arshum Rouhanian’s movie tells story of teenage musician grappling with deafness
In May, an AU Eagle competed against student filmmakers from around the world and won.
Arshum Rouhanian, a senior film and media arts major in the School of Communication, took home first place at the Trinity Film Festival in Hartford, Connecticut, for his short film, “Moonlight Suburbia.”
The award-winning movie tells the story of a teenage musician growing up in the suburbs, pursuing his passion while trying to overcome his impending deafness.
Growing up, Rouhanian said he watched as musicians around him struggled with self-doubt. He grew to appreciate that time in his life, which partially inspired the film.
“No matter what field you’re in, you’re always going to deal with self-doubt,” Rouhanian said. “I was feeling really nostalgic about high school and the suburbs, and I wanted to make that a setting for a film. I kind of put those two inspirations together to make this.”
After submitting a two-minute class documentary to the Trinity Film Festival the year before, Rouhanian decided to enter another film this year. Although the first film didn’t win, he said the experience was so inspiring and enjoyable that he wanted to go back and submit something new.
“I did not expect to win because there were so many amazing films,” Rouhanian said. “I remember the first time I went, I was like, ‘My film sucks.’ And so it’s weird to be back and win.”
The Trinity Film Festival gives undergraduate filmmakers a platform to showcase their work to local audiences and industry professionals. The festival distributes cash prizes to winners, and acts as a gateway to other film opportunities.
“I got an email one day from Trinity Film Festival and they were like, ‘Your film’s going to be on demand on Xfinity starting in the fall’,” Rouhanian said. “I flipped, it was crazy.”
The strenuous writing process for “Moonlight Suburbia” began in December 2015, with filming starting the following summer. Rouhanian spent hours in his room rewriting the 10-page script, often to the point where he considered giving up.
“If there was ever a time I was going to quit filmmaking, it was while I was making this film,” Rouhanian said. “This film is about self-doubt, and that was all I was experiencing throughout the whole thing.”
But his long-time friend Konstantin Mekhontsev convinced him it would be worth it to proceed.
The film came together with Rouhanian as the writer, director, editor and producer, Mekhontsev as cinematographer and high school friends as actors. “Moonlight Suburbia” marks the second film the duo have worked on together, the first being a feature-film titled, “A Day with God.”
The film got into one festival but didn’t win any awards. Mekhontsev said it proved to be a learning experience, teaching the duo how to navigate technical issues that made filming “Moonlight Suburbia” a more fluid experience.
Mekhontsev, a junior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says it is a privilege to work with Rouhanian.
“He’s definitely more creative in regards to establishing a story and carrying it through,” Mekhontsev said. “I really focus a lot more on visuals. We have to sort of meet halfway, where I can take his ideas as the storyline and … bring that to life through a camera.”
Rouhanian has experience when it comes to working behind the camera, too. As a sophomore, Rouhanian said he sat in Professor Kim Llerena’s Principles for Photography class, a required course for film and media arts majors that covers visual and technical principles of black and white photography.
In the darkroom course, Llerena encouraged a more detailed approach to creating images at a slower work pace. Llerena said Rouhanian considered himself a filmmaker before even starting the class, and spent extra time in the darkroom developing photos. Rouhanian said the course changed his life as he learned to apply lessons learned in class to filmmaking, including “Midnight Suburbia.”
“Something I learned that I didn’t do before was have patience,” Rouhanian said. “That class taught me to have patience and do whatever you can to get the best product. Whatever you go through to get that perfect photo won’t be short-term...that photo is forever.”
Llerena remembers Rouhanian as being a great addition to the classroom, as well as one of the “warmest, friendliest and funniest students” she has ever had.
“[He] went above and beyond,” Llerena said. “[He] was genuinely interested in the subject matter and getting better at photography and printing. It was that genuine interest that translated into him making strong and personal work.”
Rouhanian also has an interest in music and interned at Capitol Records for three months this past summer. There, he shot behind-the-scenes footage of music videos for popular artists like Lil’ Yachty, Ringo Starr and Halsey. Rouhanian has also collaborated with local artists such as Ace Cosgrove, Uno Hype and Nardo Lilly, shooting live performances and other content.
“A lot of my favorite artists are the ones that make something different with every single album, so I really want every film I make to be completely unrelated to the one I made before,” Rouhanian said. “Overall I really want to explore a whole new theme, a whole new concept, a whole new aesthetic.”
After graduation, he wants to travel, work on more music videos and continue creating another film that he’s passionate about.
“It’s hard to be like, ‘What’s next?’ because there’s a million things I want to do at once,” Rouhanian said. “I don’t know what I want to do first.”
The aspiring filmmaker advises other students that it’s okay to fail.
“If you can get over failure, you can do anything,” Rouhanian said. “Nothing can stop you because you know that you’re just going to get better.”
This story was originally published in the Oct. 20 print edition of The Eagle.