Before They Were Educators: Arledge Armenaki
Published: Friday, August 19, 2011
Updated: Friday, August 19, 2011 14:08
Not many people can say that they have worked on a feature film, even less people can say they have worked on numerous cinematic pieces of high caliber. Among that select few is Arledge Armenaki, associate professor of cinematography at Western Carolina University.
Born in Portland, Oregon, the son of a United States naval officer and pilot, Armenaki's early life was spent packing bags and moving schools every 3-4 years. Despite the constant relocations, he was able to experience different environments from a young age, including Kenitra Port Laude, Morocco, in Northwestern Africa and London, England.
As a young man, Armenaki found enjoyment in the visual world around him, inspired by the beautiful and exotic locales of his childhood.
"When I received an Ansco twin lens relex camera one Christmas, I was captivated," Armenaki said. "I loved taking pictures of everything. I explored my little world with that camera."
That curiosity for cameras and pictures led Armenaki to the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, where he would later meet his wife while filming for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
At the time of his graduation from the Brooks Institute, Armenaki had earned his Bachelor of Performing Arts degree and his thesis film became an award-winning documentary called "Visions of the Sea".
During his time at the Brooks Institute, Armenaki studied and admired the innovative camera work of Laszlo Kovacs in Easy Rider, Vilmos Zigmund in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Conrad Hall in Cool Hand Luke, just to name a few. For this reason, he knew that his future was in cinematography, the art of photographing and lighting motion pictures.
After years of experience working on independent films in the Los Angeles area, Armenaki found himself in a predicament while prepping an independent action film in which the aggressive production company pushed the film crew so that they rushed an intense and intricate stunt that resulted in a major accident. However, Armenaki had stepped down before the stunts execution and left the production.
During this rough patch in his life, Armenaki found himself praying a lot for support.
"I was asking the Lord for direction and guidance and to use my talents so I could serve Him," Armenaki said, looking back on his growing experience.
Armenaki's direction turned around a few months later when his alma mater, the Brooks Institute, offered him a position as an instructor. He accepted the offer and was invited onto their staff, becaming head of the cinematography program in the Department of Film over the next four years, and with the help of his colleagues, revamped the entire program.
In 1995, Armenaki was hired on as the first cinematography instructor and filmmaker in residence for the new film school at the North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem. Along with helping to develop the initial cinematography program, Armenaki enjoyed a decade-long residence, spending his time with "some very creative students and faculty."
It was during his ten years with the UNCSA that Armenaki began to rise to prominence as a cinematographer in the film industry. He earned the Pelican Award for Best Cinematography at the 2001 Marco Island Film Festival for his camera work on the feature film "Surfacing," and he received the North Carolinas Filmmakers Award for a short dance film called "Surrendering in a Champion's World" at the 2003 River Run Film Festival.
In 2005, Armenaki joined the faculty at Western Carolina University, where he is currently an associate professor of cinematography in the Stage and Screen Department. Like his time at the NC School of the Arts, where his films uniquely incorporated student crews, Armenaki has always tried to aggressively place his students at Western on professional films and videos as working crew members.
On involving his students on film productions, Armenaki notes, "I believe it is one of the greatest ways to learn. Be in the thick of it; be on a production where it all matters. See the pull and stress of a tight daily schedule. Then see the final results; whether it turns out good or bad."