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"Under the Walnut Tree" garners international recognition for Lycoming College film professor

"Under the Walnut Tree" garners international recognition for Lycoming College film professor

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Leah Bedrosian Peterson, multi-media artist, associate professor of film and video arts, and chair of the communications department at Lycoming College, received recognition at multiple national film festivals for, “Under the Walnut Tree”, her first stop-motion animation.

The animated film, which was made in part with funds gifted through a Lycoming College Professional Development Grant, is based on the true story of a young refugee who has been displaced during the genocide of his people. After wandering alone for days, he is ready to give up but does not waver in his courage, determined to find safety. “Under the Walnut Tree” is loosely based on the true story of Shahan Natalie, who survived the Hamidian Massacres after witnessing the murder of his family.

Also known as the Armenian Massacres, the Hamidian Massacres were the precursor to the Armenian Genocide and resulted in more than 50,000 orphaned children. When reflecting on the success of such a personal story, Peterson says, “Each award that I’ve received for my work is an honor. The awards are, in some way, a validation of my hard work, but even more so, are significant in that juries chose to recognize the value of a short story about a young refugee. In another way, the awards honor my family’s legacy both culturally and artistically. I am fortunate to be a second generation Armenian American who comes from a family of very talented artists and authors.”

Peterson utilized her own talents in designing and sculpting the characters, designing the set, and shooting and editing the film, but she received help with many other aspects of production from Lycoming faculty and students, as well as from faculty at other institutions. Maria Hebert-Leiter, a lecturer for the English department at Lycoming, wrote the touching narrative, which was translated by Vartan Matiossian, director of the Armenian National Education Committee and book review editor for Armenian Review. The film was narrated by Charles Garoian, Ph.D., professor of art education at Penn State University, and the title song for the film is by Hooshere, a well-known Armenian singer. The set and costumes were created by Gabriela Burch ’18, the digital animation was done by Brianne Charnigo ’14, and Geena Woodley ’17 assisted in costume modification.

“Under the Walnut Tree” (UTWT) has been lauded by critics and viewers at countless festivals. Most recently, UTWT was nominated for the Women Film Critics Circle Award (WFCC) which is part of the Socially Relevant Film Festival New York (SRFF), where UTWT is an Official Selection. The WFCC acted as an outside jury to choose and nominate only ten female filmmakers who are screening at the SRFF for this prestigious award. The WFCC is made up of 75 women film critics and scholars from around the country and internationally, who are involved in print, newswire, radio, online and TV broadcast media. Founded in 2004, they are the first women critics’ organization in the United States and represent media outlets such as the NBC Today Show, Variety Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue Magazine, and many others.

“My hope is that the success of Under the Walnut Tree affords me the opportunity to continue to make connections that will aid me in the direction of my next film or artwork. I’ve met some very talented filmmakers at recent festivals that I hope to collaborate with in the future. Being able to work in a field that allows me to tell the stories of those that go unnoticed, whose struggles society chooses to ignore, and illuminate those powerfully touching moments in life, is a gift,” says Peterson.