William Saroyan: The Man The Writer, A Documentary Film

Making of the Film
William Saroyan: The Man The Writer

When photographer Paul Kalinian first met William Saroyan, neither of them could have guessed the meeting would one-day result in a feature-length, award-winning documentary film about the Pulitzer Prize winner's life and works. Nor would it occur to either of them that the portraits taken by Kalinian would, 15 years later, inspire the design for the Commemorative Postal Stamps issued by the USA and the USSR.

Saroyan's first words to Kalinian were, "Get lost, I don't want my picture taken."Fortunately, he persisted and won Saroyan's confidence. An unabashed admirer of Saroyan and his writings, Kalinian had pursued the author for years without ever tripping the shutter of his camera. But on March 26, 1976 he made up for lost time, capturing Saroyan's pliant countenance on film--in a wide-ranging series of moods and expressions.

After Saroyan died in 1981, some of these portraits, along with the story of Kalinian's shooting session, were published internationally in newspapers, books and magazines. As the news of the photographs spread around the world, people from everywhere were interested in Kalinian's portraits and his experience with Saroyan. Kalinian prepared a ten-minute slide show presentation of his portraits with a personal narration, entitled, How I Shot Saroyan. As enthusiasm grew with each presentation, Kalinian decided to add a twelve-minute monologue of Saroyan entitled, Growing Up In Fresno, coupled with historic Fresno scenes depicting the times and the places of his life.

Writer/Director Paul Kalinian
with daughter Producer Dr. Susie Kalinian

In 1987, during a slide show presentation at the University of Chicago, a person by the name of Thomas A. Kooyumjian approached Kalinian about putting his work on film. Although this had already crossed Kalinian's mind, Kooyumjian's enthusiasm to be his first contributor encouraged Kalinian to follow his dream.

Paul and his daughter, Dr. Susie Kalinian, continued extensive research on William Saroyan and were deeply involved in learning about his character and philosophy toward humanity. As they became more knowledgeable about Saroyan, the Kalinians wanted to immortalize his life and works on film. They spent more than 8 years accumulating the limited resources available for this documentary, creating new materials, restoring old photographs, and cleaning and editing Saroyan's voice--recorded by him from 1948 to 1976.

Through much difficulty, some rare film footage of Saroyan's trips and interviews were obtained from Soviet Armenia. Despite numerous obstacles, delays and revisions, the Kalinians finally completed the hour-long documentary film entitled, William Saroyan: The Man The Writer,in 1991. The film, subtitled in Armenian, and is originally shot on 16mm format, photographed in color, sepia tone, and black & white.

Written and Directed by Paul Kalinian and Produced by Dr. Susie Kalinian, the film highlights Saroyan's personal life, his essence, character and philosophy, his works and message to the world, and the undying love and passion he felt for both his native country as an American, and for the country of his forefathers, as an Armenian. Saroyan discusses his cultural heritage and its importance and influence on his becoming a writer. He rejects money, fame and glory. He ultimately goes back to his roots and finds his final rest in Fresno, California and in Yerevan, Armenia.

The story begins in Fresno, California, in the early 1900's and spans 8 decades until the writer’s death in 1981. The film opens with Saroyan reminiscing about his past. It continues with film star Mike Connors' narration of Saroyan's 60 year writing career, based on biographies, interviews, recordings, newspaper and magazine articles, his works, and Kalinian's personal experience with Saroyan.

The film includes: the city of Fresno--past and present, excerpts of Saroyan’s voice spoken in English and Armenian, photographs, home movies, memorabilia, the 60 books published during Saroyan’s lifetime, on location re-enactment scenes, rare footage of Saroyan's last visits to his ancestral homeland, graphical illustrations by Sarkis Muradyan, and original music score composed by Paul Nazlikian.

The film has won 6 International Film Festival Awards: five for the film makers and one for the music composer, including the Gold Award, for Best Documentary Film, from the Philadelphia International Film Festival.

From 1991 to 2003, the film has played in 58 cities in 22 countries and continues. More than one million people around the world have seen the film.

The purpose of this non-profit documentary film is to preserve and present the legacy, works, and dual cultural heritage of William Saroyan, for the study and enjoyment of our generation and the generations to come, and to create the spirit of brotherhood and understanding among all nations.


The Time of Your Life

IN THE TIME of your life, live--so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man's guilt is not yours, nor is any man's innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live--so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.


The Armenian and the Armenian

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race; this small tribe of unimportant people whose history is ended, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, whose prayers are no longer uttered. Go ahead, destroy this race. Let us say that it is again 1915; there is war in the world. Destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their houses and their churches. See if they will not live again. See if they will not laugh again. See if you can stop them from mocking the big ideas of the world. You sons of bitches. Go ahead, try to destroy them.