Unveiling the Untold Triumphs: The Making of Pride Jewel - A Gripping True Story of Perseverance!
Written By: Stephen Golub
Did you know that an award-winning crime drama was filmed in Benicia, Ca. in 2020/2021 and released last year? And Pride Jewel is now available for free (with ads) at Tubi.com and available for rental at Amazon Prime Video.
Written and co-produced by former Benicia resident Armen Dilanchian as his full-length feature, Pride Jewel tells the story of Andre, a young Armenian immigrant who is drawn into a nasty, jewelry-robbing gang upon arrival in America.
I first became aware of Pride Jewel when reading a fine December 2021 Cooper Mickelson interview with Dilanchian in Benicia Magazine, before the film was formally released.
Having finally seen it last week, I’d say that Pride Jewel is well worth catching. The plot moves along pretty briskly; it has some unpredictable elements; the immigrant theme resonates; the several Benicia-based scenes make for fun viewing.
In fact, those scenes in and around our scenic town made me wonder whether Benicia has some potential as a locale for future films.
But if you check out Pride Jewel on Tubi.com, do so with tempered expectations. This is not Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job or some other glamorous Hollywood heist film. Rather, it’s a very low-budget movie (though with high production values), filmed in less than three weeks.
On top of those constraints, Dilanchian and his crew faced the huge obstacle of filming during Covid, which forced the team to scale back the production in many respects. Several action scenes had to be scratched. A wedding scene cast for which 500 guests had been planned was cut to just eleven extras – though it’s to director Doug Thomsen’s great credit that he nonetheless creates the sense of a large celebration.
Writer and co-producer Dilanchian also impresses in an additional way, by virtue of overcoming an obstacle that others in his field might find incredibly daunting: He’s legally blind.
When I reached out to Armen, who’s moved to Florida with his family in order to raise his son closer to relatives, he proved very helpful and quickly answered my emailed questions about himself and Pride Jewel. Here is the interview, edited for clarity and, due to space constraints, brevity:
What made your family decide to immigrate to America?
My mother and father wanted us to attend good universities in the U.S. They were big on education and wanted to ensure their children had access to better opportunities.
I moved to the U.S. in the early 80s at the age of 12 years old. We had settled in Salt Lake City because two of my siblings were already in the U.S., and one was attending the University of Utah Pharmacy School. My parents were wonderful people who sacrificed so much to ensure their children would have opportunities they never had. My love of movies and learning that this is what I wanted to do was from my mother showing me what a powerful medium movies are.
What was the immigrant transition like for you? I realize you didn't become part of a jewelry-robbing gang, but does the film reflect your experience in any way?
The process was a little tough on me because I did not speak English when I arrived in the U.S. I was accepted to a public high school in Salt Lake City called East High School. It was tough for me the first year to find friends or even be able to communicate easily. I learned all my English by watching American TV and movies, while trying to find my way and navigate around the school.
I fell in love with storytelling and making films at a young age. My mother used to take me to the movie theatre every Friday afternoon, and when the lights went down, and a movie began to play, I thought this was such a great feeling. That feeling of immersing myself in the film I saw profoundly impacted me, and I knew that's what I wanted to do. After so many years of trying and writing, I was finally able to make Pride Jewel, which is based on actual events.
How did you come to live in Benicia? And how did you decide to film Pride Jewel here?
I lived in Benicia with my wife and son Carlo, who makes a cameo in the movie as young Andre. My wife and I were living in SF, and when we had our son, we decided we needed a small-town feel about raising our son, so we purchased a home at Portside Village right by the water. It was great. We enjoyed it. I decided Benicia is such a gorgeous town. I thought it'd be a great place to shoot Pride Jewel. Besides, the logistics of producing a movie in a small town is much easier. You get to know people personally, especially when securing location, permits, etc.
Congratulations on being the world's greatest expert on filming a full-length feature in Benicia. Joking aside, do you have any advice for the city on how it might try to attract others to film here?
Thank you! My advice would be for the city to market the town as a beautiful and friendly place where filmmakers can make their films. I hope the city can use our film to be an example of what can be done in Benicia. The town can also revamp the old theatre on 1st Street and hold a yearly film festival. It can attract many industry people to the city if a successful celebration is created.
Benicia will always have an extraordinary place in my heart because of our fantastic town memories. If the city will ever need new films to showcase, and thus to attract residents and other folks from neighboring towns or even industry folks, I would be more than happy to help.
Covid aside, were any other challenges about filming in Benicia?
The biggest challenge was that I am visually impaired. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic progressive eye disease that slowly robs you of your vision. I am now legally blind. My challenge has never stopped me from accomplishing my work and will not in the future, as I am making two other feature films and am involved with another movie.
I understand that you're seeking to develop a new film, Gabriel. How is that going? And what else are you up to these days?
Yes, I wanted to shoot a lot of the scenes in Benicia. However, the biggest issue all filmmakers face is raising the capital to make the movie. It's a much larger film for Gabriel, and I'm hoping we can have a few investors who see the commercial potential and get the project off the ground; as they say in the biz, we are in development. Additionally, I am writing two other scripts, one being Pride Jewel's The Revenge.
[Note: The site for 4D Legacy Studios, Dilanchian’s film production/sales agency, provides a good amount of additional information on Armen, his company and its current and planned projects: 4dlegacystudios.com]
In addition to his Benicia and Beyond column for the Herald, Steve Golub produces the blog A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. The blog covers domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that America can learn from other countries. It can be found at apromisedland.org.