Art and Experience/Kambiz Hazrati: Armenia film week is a good time for learning more about cinematic people and cinema lovers of Iran and Armenia. The vision of both countries’ filmmakers have various similarities in narratives and cinematic issues which will lead to a successful joint production with a common will. In this regard, we have talked with two directors of Armenia’s Cinema Aram Shahbazian and Aren Vatyan about joint production, cooperation horizons and the state of Armenia’s cinema.
Currently, Armenian cinema production is about six or seven films per year. Tell us about these films and their approach.
Aram Shahbazian: I should say it is true that this number of films are producing each year in Armenian cinema but this is not the total number of production of Armenian cinema. Because the private sector also produces three or four commercial films in a year. You can plainly see commercial advertisements in these films. In principle, such films are more suitable for inside screening. But art films are produced according to international film definitions.
Is there enough room for the cinema halls in Armenia to display works?
Shahbazian: We have four cultural-cinema complexes in Iravan, the capital of Armenia. These cinematic complexes promote and improve the culture of going to the cinema in the country. The four complexes have four movie halls and theaters, and are equipped with modern technologies in the field of sound and image.
Mr. Vatyan you are active in the field of short film. Explain the release of short film in Armenia. Short films feature in cinematheques and hangouts, or they get public screenings?
Aren Vatyan: Basically short film cinema is not commercial cinema, and usually short films are displayed at festivals and special places. A short film alone does not have public release, but several short films may appear together in a cinematic show.
The modern Armenian cinema in Iran is unknown. How familiar are you with Iranian films and cinema in Armenia?
Shahbazian: The golden apricot festival in Armenia is a well-known festival and a prestigious festival in the region. In this festival, Iranian films have been featured by young filmmakers or pioneers, and we always see them. Abbas Kiarostami has been at the festival many times and we know him as a prominent filmmaker. This festival will help us introduce Armenian cinema to others. In recent years, many films from Armenia have participated in A level festivals and have grabbed attention. For example, the movie “Moskvich, My Love” which was featured in the Armenia film week in Iran, has been featured in A level and prestigious festivals.
This film is a joint production with France. How was the experience of producing the film “Moskvich, My Love” for you?
Shahbazian: This film was made with the fund of a French company and its post production works were done in France. This film was participated in six festivals and won two awards which was a good and satisfying experience in general.
How much does co-production in the field of short film mean?
Vatyan: Last year, I created a joint film with Canada, a joint production of Armenia and Canada. With my initiative, another film was created in collaboration with Russia. Even a film in Armenia was produced in partnership with the United States, Armenia and another country.
Because the short film is not so expensive, why co-production happens in this field?
Vatyan: The discussion of joint production in the field of short film is important for discussing the mutual interests of both sides, and these goals get closer together in an area. Therefore, the subject is more about common goal.
Are foreign and Hollywood films go on screen in Armenia?
Vatyan: Yes; Hollywood and Russian films are going on screen in Armenia.
Don’t foreign films screening have negative impact on national Armenian cinema?
Varyan: No, not at all.
Shahbazian: In fact, this makes national films more popular. It is possible that films like “Avatar” to sell more from Armenian cinema, but Armenian commercial films are in the upper hand and their position box office is good. I also add that Armenia’s cinema is closer to European cinema than Hollywood.
There has been relationship between Armenia and the Soviet Union and a kind of common system. How much does the Armenian Republic is close to intellectual or cultural cinema of Russia?
Vatyan: I can not compare the cinema of the Republic of Armenia with Russian cinema. We have more impact on European cinema, but the cinema of Russia and Armenia is not comparable.
Shahbazian: Today’s Russian cinema is a very different cinema with different works and is not as slick as the Soviet cinema. Basically, if Russian art films be on screen in Armenia, we will not have trouble with them.
Does Armenian cinema have a big market share in Russia?
Vatyan: When we do a joint work with the Russian side, this happens and our film will be on screen there. And if for example, we create a joint film with Iran and it is interesting for both sides, we will have screening in both countries.
How much of Iranian cinema is based on your taste and interest?
Shahbazian: As far as we are familiar with this cinema, and we have seen movies, we like them. Available films are good films. The Iranian film has a special purpose and vision that is not like Hollywood or Europe cinema. They have good and deep dramas with little financial resources. I have seen Kiarostami and the movie “Ten” and I love it. I know Bani Etemad, Farhadi, Panahi and … .
How much and with what percent does Armenian filmmaker think about returning capital in Armenian cinema and in the joint productions of Armenian filmmakers?
Shahbazian: After the independence of Armenia’s cinema, it faced numerous problems, and there was no broad distribution structure. In fact, our broadcasting structure did not find its final shape and did not fit into our cinematic productions. Accordingly, we need to think about joint production in generating cinematic productions.
If the problem of broadcasting went down its natural routine, was Armenian cinema still interested in the artistic approach? Or would it focus on business?
Shahbazian: The main structure of our cinema tends to be genuine culture and art, and on the margin commercial film is being produced. In the past five or six years, Armenian cinema has moved towards a better and more artistic quality. Because the taste of the audience is imposed on the filmmaker, and this taste makes the growth of cinema, even in recent years, weak commercial films have not been able to return capital.
Vatyan: In general, cinema has to return capital, and in this case, joint projects must have a commercial value. Basically, the product must be accompanied by the return of capital.
From my understanding, you do not consider any difference between a good movie and a box office movie?
Shahbazian: Good cinema and good film is a film that attracts the audience and has a good box office position. For example, the “Godfather” owned the box office and had all the parameters of a good movie. My attention is on Iran-Armenia joint issue. I hope that we have common borders for long-term planning so that this interaction becomes possible.
Vatyan: We have a great horizon with great proximity, yet its first steps have not been taken. Iran’s cinema is vibrant and a source of power for us. The common history of the two countries is high and there is a deep mutuality in the thousands of years of history which is enough for this art. We can put this common culture into work. There are potential cultural events, but they must be actual. Few countries are so close together like us.
What are the barriers to this collaborative effort in your opinion?
Shahbazian: I think organization and coordination is our main problem. If it is coordinated and a suitable program is poured, it can easily be set up. The first step forward in this joint cooperation is coordination. One of our current problems is the lack of our understanding of each other. We do not have comprehensive knowledge of one another, and we have not used each other owning.
Mr. Shahbaziyaz let us turn to your experience in the field of cinema. Armenia’s cinema stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the war. What happened that made you think of film making?
Shahbazian: It is very good for me to clarify this. Because a generation was the victim of political and social events. But what saved me? I participated in the war and became more frustrated after the war. I then accepted at the University of France. This university and leaving my country for three years has saved me. If I was not accepted in the university and I stayed in Armenia, I would not believe that I would become a director. I was saved at that time. I should either be directed or destroyed. But this evolution was my most important savior. In the wars and the events after that, many victims were destroyed and many more talented people than me died. When I was back, a new generation was formed, and things were changed. The generation after us did not experience bitterness and exertion. Those who were most affected were graduated from 1988 to 1990. Everywhere we walked, we were left with the ruins and the ground under our feet was empty.
This generation who learned cinema in Europe, when did return to his native infrastructure?
Shahbazian: I think we have returned to our native and original identity already. In Armenia, there was a positive revolution and promising developments. Today, in terms of organization and … bold steps are taken. Today’s young people are mature and intelligent and have a good understanding of the world of cinema. When I returned from France, the distributors and the producers did not know what they were doing, but this new generation could teach us.
Mr. Vatyan, you are a generation after the victims of political events. What does your experience in cinema tell you?
Vatyan: I’ll start with myself. I graduated from the Yerevan Drama University in 1999, but since the filmmaking situation was not ready, inevitably I became an actor in the theater. After 12 years, I turned back to the field which I was graduated from and made short films. I’ve been filming for about six years and I’ve faced some of the lack of facilities issues.
You are now active in short film filmmaking because you do not have a feature movie making ground? Is that your reason for being in this field?
Vatyan: I’m going to make a fiction feature film, but for the time being I do not have the conditions and facilities for the movie. Some people think that if 50% of the film’s production budget was ready, they should start their work, but I want to be fully prepared for my work. Meanwhile I’m making short films to become ready for making a feature movie.
I hope that your first high-profile film will be produced with the cooperation of Iran.
Vatyan: I’ll be happy. I hope that we will enter into the field of joint cooperation. This action has begun, but I hope it will be operational sooner.
Photo: Yasaman Zohortalab
Translated by: Arezu Ghorbanpour Wishkasoughi