MidNight FistFight: Exploring the World of Armenian Zhamos
In the underbelly of Armenian culture, lies the “zhamo,” a meeting between men set up to settle differences, but one that’s expected to erupt in violence instead.
MidNight FistFight, a new short film produced and directed by Robert Nazar Arjoyan and co-written with David Lafian, aims to explore this “Armenian version of an English duel” as Arjoyan notes but also offers a front seat into the life of the often troubled Armenian alpha-male.
The story centers around Gev (David Lafian), who, still reeling from the loss of his mother, channels his grief into violence and rage, while his sister Alina (Lena Kay) is forced to take on their mother’s role, at the risk of impacting her relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Alec ( Movses Karapetyan).
When Alec and Gev are forced to participate in a “zhamo,” they must put their differences aside. But will they survive the night?
Arjoyan, who pulled the idea for the film from personal experience, wanted to drive home the fact that zhamos are a pretty terrible way to deal with problems.
After reaching his monetary goal on the crowd-funding site KickStarter back in February, Arjoyan set out to raise the remaining funds needed independently. He perfectly summed up the etymology and meaning of what a “zhamo” entails:
Also known as a razbirat, a zhamo is a ritualistic meeting conducted by predominantly Armenian males at a specifically set time. Meetings generally take place, at night and in an isolated location, in order to solve a dispute amongst individuals or whole groups, be they problems of verbal abuse, physical and/or bodily harm, or matters of pride. The wordzhamo is derived from the Armenian zham, which literally means ‘hour.’ : We have to go to a zhamo with the guys tonight.
Of course, fact mirrors fiction, as the practice of the “zhamo” is not uncommon today, especially among Armenian Diasporan youth in the Los Angles area. In 2009, 19-year-old Mike Yepremyan was shot and killed during a similar meet up over a text message.
While exploring the often tense relationships between the characters, Arjoyan wanted to depict the illogical concept of the “zhamo,” which he says is an over exaggerated defense mechanism due to centuries of tragic history.
“We’ve constantly been battered and beaten, and we’ve had to build this callous skin,” he told ianyanmag. “But inside we’re sad. It’s also super subconscious, too.”
The film, which is currently being submitted to festivals, also explores the overarching “machismo” that dominates many aspects of patriarchal Armenian culture, an issue which Arjoyan said he thinks will be eradicated after a few generations.
MidNight FistFight premieres tomorrow night (August 11) in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent at 8 p.m.
Watch the trailer below