Jivan Avetisyan:

Jivan Avetisyan:

“Make films, instead of the noise”

Armenian film director Jivan Avetisyan’s second feature film, “The Last Inhabitant” recently won the feature competition prize at Pomegranate film festival in Canada and will soon appear in HBO East Europe’s catalogue․ Meanwhile the filmmaker is already working on his third picture. Regional Post talked to Avetisyan about the nuances of film production in Armenia and his vision on the future of the industry.

 

Areg Davtyan

 

We heard the news that “The Last Inhabitant” is bought by the HBO East Europe channel…

We are still in the process, but yes, the deal is happening right now. The channel will have a one year exclusive license to show the film, and then half a year more without exclusive rights. At this point our team in Lithuania is preparing a video file with HBO’s guidelines.

"Tevanik"

You mentioned Lithuania. You cooperated with co-producers from that country on both your films. How important it is to have partners in different countries?

Of course, you can shoot the film with your own money just staying in Armenia. And it happens very often I have to say. But as I see it, Armenian film industry’s development is largely connected to the co-production mechanism. If one wants to be involved in the world market, and that’s what any filmmaker wants, one must have big actors, good stories and production companies, known in the market. One may have a film from a country not widely known worldwide, but if there is a production company or a co-producer from France, or Germany, or Netherlands, it’s way more trustful for the buyers and distributors. Without that, one may have a great picture but never find a market. I understood the importance of that five years ago, when I first went to the Cannes Film Market and saw how the global industry works.

Film industry is such a global, international thing. Look, if twenty years ago Abbas Kiarostami’s “A taste of cherry” wasn’t selected for the Cannes Film Festival (it  later won the Palme D’or prize), I probably would not see it. Then I wouldn’t know the great actor Homayoun Ershadi and wouldn’t try to get him to act in my film. But that’s what happened and Ershadi played one of the two leading roles in “The Last Inhabitant”. And I love the idea that our great local actors have the opportunity to work with international cast. Armenia has to do everything for local filmmakers to have more opportunities to work in co-productions. That is the key.

Your first film, “Tevanik”, was a co-production of two countries, five countries were involved in “The Last Inhabitant”. Which one was easier to make? Does this experience help you on your third feature film, “Gate to Heaven”?

Well, all of them had their own difficulties, because after each project my team and I had bigger challenges and bigger scales, though we had more experience than before. “Tevanik” was easier, but it was my first feature. “The Last Inhabitant” was way bigger, “Gate to Heaven” is made in even larger scale, with wider geography.

And all of these three films are related to your native Nagorno-Karabakh…

Yes, indeed. And the biggest problem here when talking to foreign companies and producers, is that many of them say they don’t want to be involved in projects related to a conflict. That means that at home, in Armenia, these kind of projects must get even more support.

"Last Inhabitant's" composer Serj Tankian, director Jivan Avetisyan and producer Kestutis Drazdauskas

What is “Gate to Heaven” about? Is it a war film?

I would say it’s a love story, with a Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and a post-war Karabakh on the background, but not actually a war film. It’s about human relations and the mistakes of the past.

Is it so much important for you to have Nagorno-Karabakh in all your films, at least so far?

We live once. And now we live in a moment in history, where all our actions must have one aim: to finally gain peace and prosperity in all our land. Film is not the ultimate answer, art only raises questions that lead to answers. And that’s what I can do.

When will “Gate to Heaven” be ready?

We plan to do shootings next years and be ready for 2019’s festivals. By the way, as far as I know, this is the first film on Karabakh, which is mainly - about 80 per cent - in English. Because in the story we have international characters, so they communicate in English. At the same time it will make easier to gain international distribution.

What countries are involved in the production?

Armenia, Lithuania, Finland and France. We are now expecting final agreements from different companies and funds. Each part has its crew, cast and location shootings. All of these make “Gate to Heaven” really challenging and special for me.

What do you think about the film law and the changes it may bring to the industry?

Film law is a very important thing, but it must be perfect. As I can see, the weakest part of the draft law is that it pays more attention to the foreign productions that can use Armenia as a location, than to the local filmmakers. But not a single foreign production will come here, unless you have experienced and qualified crew here in Armenia. To have that crew you must support their local projects. That’s how my partners in Lithuania work: his production company has more than a hundred professionals who do dozens of local films and at least two big scale American productions during a year. Local cinema must be on the first place.

What skills must a filmmaker in Armenia have to be able to shoot films he wants?

We don’t have actual film industry, instead we have a lot of noise. One should just sit, gather a team and make your film. At least, that’s what I try to do, not waste my time on making noise about problems of the industry, but actually trying to do something. First we wrote a script with Artavazd Yeghiazaryan and Mko Malkhasyan, then started fundraising and preparations for the production.

How is the fundraising taking place? Is it difficult?

We are using all the mechanisms, that are common in the industry. It means that not only we apply to the international film funds, but also try to get the product placement - of course without harming the story․ The other important part of this is charity: we already have support from Tufenkian, Hamazgain and Pyunik foundations, and negotiate with others. And also organize crowdfunding. At the same time, we use all the money that comes from my previous two films screenings and sails. But most importantly, we hope to get support from Armenian Cinema Center to shoot the film we want the world to see. I’m sure, the result will be satisfying for all the parties.