Film Critic: "There's a Disconnect between Cinema and Viewer in Armenia"

Mary Mamyan
Film critic and historian Siranoush Galstyan has much to say about the state of Armenian cinema today. She shares some of her views and criticisms with Hetq in the following conversation.

If we were to observe our reality as a film, how would you characterize it?
There are many unbearable things in today's reality. One may focus on that filth and say that he/she is merely recording reality. But such unpleasantness can be photographed in different ways. All is a matter of presentation.
We see such contradictions in our daily reality. Poverty and opulence live side by side, extremes and contradictions exist as much as you want. Someone is struggling to eat, while someone else is only interested in acquiring the latest car. Reality is multilayered, but there is always an issue of choice. What’s most important, however, is how to present it.

To what extent do the films being made today reflect our reality?
The most dramatic change in our cinema has been the disconnect between film and public. The same issue exists even in a land of plenty like the United States. Today our audiences have practically no idea of what is being filmed. If you go out on the street and ask passersby what films they have watched in the past ten years, they’ll remember very little.
I would think that they would mainly remember Hratch Keshishyan's films, because they mostly make it to the big screen and then get shown on television.
If we talk about his first work that played successfully on the big screen, it was the film «Սպանուած աղաւնիներ» (Killed Pigeons). It wasn’t as bad as a TV movie or a mini-serial, but besides that, it had its shortcomings. When I went to see that film, I was happy to see that the advertising had worked. Armenians had missed watching their fellow countrymen on the screen. They had missed the classical works. The next film was «Խաչագողի յիշատակարանը» (The Memoirs of a Cross-Thief). But I have certain objections with the selection. If he wanted to make a film based on the works of Raffi, why didn’t he choose «Կայծեր» (Sparks) or «Խենթը» (The Fool)? He could have even combined the two to make something interesting. Then came “Garegin Nzhdeh”. Yes, there was a real need for the film to be made, but nevertheless, I found it riddled with holes.

What holes are you referring to?
From a professional standpoint, there are holes in the approach to the material. I liked the performances of the two actors who played Garegin Nzhdeh, but the need for two actors to play the same role remained unclear to me. Now, there are movies where actors are changed during filming, but the director must explain why. Otherwise, audiences might get confused. I also found problems with the script.

Why is it that the films of certain directors make it to the screen while the works of others remain inaccessible to audiences?
This is usually the case when the film disappears right after being premiered. I believe that television must be used to reconnect movies with moviegoers. There should be a short but focused weekly program or two on the movie scene in Armenia. People should be provided with some information about what films are being made and which ones will be coming to the screen. Instead, even the sporadic films made for TV have left a bad taste in the mouths of viewers, to the point that people have been accustomed not to expect much of quality. Even without watching, people expect the film to be not worth the watch.

Of the films made in the last ten or fifteen years, which ones would you note as must-sees and films worthy of wide distribution?
Off the top of my head, I’d say Souren Babayan’s «Ժանօ» (Zhano) and «Մի նայիր հայելու» (Don't Look at the Mirror); Vigen Chaldranyan’s «Լռութեան սիմֆոնիա» (Symphony of Silence) and «Ձայն լռութեան» (Voice of Silence); Hovhannes Galstyan’s «Խճճուած զուգահեռներ» (Tangled Parallels); and «Եթէ բոլորը» (If Everybody) by Mikayel Poghosyan and Natalya Belyauskeny. It concerns me why we don’t even know that these films have been made. But it’s not the fault of the potential audience.

Let’s take a look at the technical aspects of movie viewing. In Armenia there are only a handful of movie theaters and many watch films via the internet. Can anything be done to change this?
In the U.S., a country with the most advanced technologies, people line up to see a movie at the theater. It’s tragic that there are so few movie houses in Armenia. We have to find ways to use more effectively what we have . Sure, movie houses must make a profit to operate, but I believe that the films I’ve mentioned could pull in loads of viewers if the right policies were put into place. The oft heard opinion that what is being shown is really what viewers want is either an expression of naiveté or deliberate cunning.
Are you trying to tell me that those viewers are actually demanding this junk? Such a view is an insult to the moviegoer. In reality, supply shapes demand.

In that case, what does the viewer demand? What would they like to see on the screen?
I don’t think that we can guarantee a large variety in terms of genre, given the scarcity of resources. But we have a big demand for quality comedy today.
The same reality that upsets and disillusions us must be presented through a comic lens. It must be done professionally and with good taste. Comedy, quality comedy, is a tough act. There’s a dearth of good comedy as evidenced by what passes as comedy or humor on Armenian TV.
People have to be patient and sit through corny and crass jokes just to hear one example of actual comic fare.

"Hetq," February 7, 2014

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