To Shoot a Film

By Maria Karapetyan

To shoot a film – this term sometimes becomes a double entendre in modern-day Armenian film production; directors often produce and instantly kill a movie. At the beginning of the 21st century, cinematography in Armenia is a blur of professional and amateur directors and actors with varying quality of work, easily shifting between the different genres of visual arts. Often times, filmmaking doesn’t revolve around a complete idea or a message. Instead, the script evolves when the shooting is already in progress. It seems that some pseudo-directors shoot pseudo-films based on the available props and requisites or even a human resource, for example, an actor that can imitate good martial skills or has good comedian skills.

Anyways, being an ordinary viewer unable to offer much competent criticism of modern-day Armenian cinematography, I, without any further comments on my part, pass the mandate to a more qualified person – Beniamin Gevorgyan, a young film director whose filmography includes Palette in 2000, Trafficking in 2002, Fragment in 2004, Broken Mulberry in 2005 and Far and Near in 2007.

M: What’s your opinion on Soviet films?

B: Twofold. First, let’s mention that the majority of Soviet films were created to spread and justify the ideology of the time. Of course, this can’t be viewed positively, but it ought to be acknowledged that the Soviet cinematography has a big input in world cinematography. I can recall a few renowned directors – Dziga Vertov, Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky and others. Individuals create cinema; attention must be paid to that.

M: How would you evaluate the film culture of today’s Armenia?

B: Quite negatively, since there is no film culture per se in Armenia. And this has objective and subjective reasons; in general, Armenian culture nowadays is undergoing a deep decline, which is a very distressing occurrence.

M: What changes would you like to see in modern Armenian cinema?

B: To begin with, I would like to see a change in the system that is in place in the sphere of Armenian cinema; it is much closed and subject to corruption which in turn hinders the breakthrough of talented young people who can actually have something to say and interferes with the natural cycle of generations. Many older directors still live with the Soviet mentality with its defective phenomena, and they are the ones managing the state funds. They are foremost concerned with themselves shooting films and don’t have the slightest desire to train professionals to become better than themselves; it is a monopolization of the sphere of cinema. Whatever happens in Armenia finds its direct reflection in the sphere of cinema as well… unfortunately.

M: What films do we need in Armenia today?

B: First of all, sincerity- it is very important in our days. Secondly, capture the issues we have in our society. I don’t think that a director must necessarily answer the questions raised in his/her films; talking about them is already a big step. And of course, a good story with interesting solutions- close to our reality, us and our spirit- that’s the type of film I would like to see.

M: Are there films that the Armenian society is not ready for?

B: Of course, films that will cast a light on the dark sides of our society; the sides that we are afraid of, or do not want to see.

M: Are you familiar with the quality of instruction of cinematography at Armenian universities? What is the potential of young directors and actors in the development of modern Armenian cinema?

B: Of course, I am. The universities do not really prepare professional staff- either directors or actors. They have a simulated role; which is already a big problem. And university lecturers are older directors who are not at all interested in training specialists. We see a curious closed circle. This is our reality; the youth does not have any idea of their weak professional qualifications. I myself understood that only when I went to Poland to study at Andrzej Wajda’s school. There is no school of cinema per se in Armenia, and in that respect, we are fumbling in the dark. I believe in the power of the youth, but if a young person asked me for advice on where to study, I would advise them to go to Europe and not expect that they will be given an opportunity to shoot a film in Armenia after their return. It is a very difficult thing to be a director… to go through a real school, to read a lot, love what you do, go until the end and not to break too soon. And the films are mostly amateur despite their great potential.

M: Does cinematography get enough coverage on the news?

B: No and the reasons are unknown to me.

M: A good film and a good director – what are they like?

B: A good film stirs the emotions of the audience and gives them food for thought. And a good director must have something to say, ability to generalize the theme; they need to be somewhat a philosopher and most importantly believe in what they are saying, be honest with themselves and the audience. That, of course, is the ideal director.

M: What can surprise you in a film?

B: The message, something I hadn’t been paying attention to until recently, and of course, the way it is delivered.

M: How should a film end?

B: That is a question of dramaturgy. Everyone finds his own way. I am not supporter of happy-ends. I can simply say that the end needs to be convincing.

M: When a film has a big impact on the audience, is it because of the sensitivity of the audience or the really good job of the film crew?

B: Both. A film is first of all aimed towards an audience, and a good director knows how to affect the viewers emotionally, and the audience needs willingness to be affected. It is seems to be a two-way process.

M: Are quality films different from films in demand? What’s the difference?

B: The message and the depth. Films in demand are mainly targeted to capture the audience with a spectacular show. They can affect the audience with their sentimentality but are not thought provoking.

M: What do you think of following events and developments in Azerbaijani cinematography?

B: It is necessary to follow cinema trends both in Azerbaijani and in the world cinematography.

M: Would you consider shooting a war theme film? What would be the main idea? What would you advise the directors of such a film?

B: There have been many films on war, both good and bad. For example, in Armenian cinema, there have recently been films that are full of “stamps” and hooray-patriotism, or that speak of being humane and the friendship of Armenian and Azerbaijani people. Both types carry certain ideologies. Of course, it is a good thing to say that war is bad and we are humans, let’s not kill each other, but those are truths on a poster, and they don’t tell me much. War is a great deal deeper and dramatic phenomenon; war can change not only a person’s but a whole people’s trajectory of fate. I have not thought of that. To shoot a film like that, you have to have been in a war yourself. That’s the only thing I can say and give one piece of advice – to shoot honest films.

M: What is your attitude towards the screenings of Azerbaijani films in Armenia?

B: Positive, but it is not time yet. As long as there are soldiers and civilians dying, I think it is not correct. In Azerbaijan, hate towards Armenians has state patronage, and Azerbaijan has serious issues with it. You can’t attain peace through hate. I would like there to be no gunshots and casualties on the borderlines and lines of protection, then with great pleasure, I would watch Azerbaijani films with others.

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