Supported by Ministry of Culture of RA


Armenian Cinema:
Biographical Sketch

It is only after painful efforts that Armenia, a land of ancient culture, and the young muse Cinematography, finally meet. In the beginning of the century, the attempts of individual Armenian artists to reflect their ideas and hopes on the screen, are all in vain. The Armenian land is tormented by mortal blows from fighting empires and becomes a suitable site for foreign cameramen, but it can not become a nourishing ground for local film production. It is the formation of the state and establishment of peaceful life that makes the emergence of national cinematography possible. April 16, 1923 is considered to be the day Armenian cinema is born. On this day in April, the Armenian State Committee on Cinema, or the "Goskino," is established under a Soviet Government decree.
Two particularly important founders of Armenian cinema are the talented 28-year-old Daniel Dznuni, and an outstanding figure of Russian pre-Soviet cinema, Hamo Bek-Nazarov. Bek-Nazarov had experience directing films in the studio "Goskinprom" of Georgia, and his first film, "Namus," a typical melodrama, shot in Armenia in 1926, is a great sensation. This film tells the story of a young couple who become victims of prejudice and stagnant notions of honor, as Armenians would call, "namus." The metaphorical language of the film and accuracy of details reflecting the customs of the nation arouse great interest. "Namus" has great success both in Armenia and abroad. Bek-Nazarov's subsequent films prove his high level of professionalism and originality. Epic films, such as "Zare," which tells the story about the life of the Kurds, and "Khaspush," a film about the struggle of the poor in Iran against their oppressors, prove that Armenian filmmakers not only focus on their own national problems, but also show compassion toward other nations undergoing similar tortures and tragic shocks. These films are perceived as conceptual films and "Unvarnished East" characterizes the style of this type of film. In contrast to the oriental films, which depict Asia as a land of exotic wonders and horrors, early Armenian films reflect the reality of life and reveal the East as a knot of contradictions where the chains of slavery and stagnant customs are slowly beginning to break. Finally, the Armenian comical genre encompasses a wide range of films. Among them are "Shor and Shor-Shor," a comedy of everyday life, "Mexican Diplomats," a political satire, and "Kikos," a national-heroic comedy. The swan-song of Armenian silent cinema, however, is the film "Gikor." It is a moving psychological story about a boy who is the victim of a cruel and inhumane world. This particular storywas screened twice, and in 1980's the new version of "Gikor" appears with color and sound.
In March of 1924, the Armenian film studio, Haykino, also known as Armenkino, starts operating in Yerevan. By the end of the 1920's Armenia has a well-equipped film studio with a large shooting pavilion that is later furnished with the necessary lighting and audio equipment. 1935 was a significant turning-point for Armenian cinema because of the creation of the first sound film, "Pepo." On one hand, this movie seems to encompass the experience of the silent film, but on the other hand, it considerably enlarges the scope of Armenian cinema. The action of the film goes far beyond the scope of the story, which tells of a rich man who corrupts a poor man's family. The noisy street, packed with the simple, hard-working population, is accurately reflected on the screen. The street is no longer a background but becomes an active participant, as it so appears today. The film "Pepo" gains international recognition and comes to represent Armenian culture abroad.
The 1920's and 30's are characterized by the establishment and formation of a national school of Armenian cinema. Nevertheless, the history of cinematography, and Armenian cinematography in particular, is not a continuous road upward. The Armenian cinema faces its first crisis in the 1930's, which worsens by the end of 1940's, and is followed by a sharp decrease in the volume of film production. This crisis is mostly conditioned by ideological diktat imposed by the totalitarian regime. The art is artificially squeezed into defined frames and stereotypes, for example the cliche of the so-called "historical-revolutionary" genre films. During those years some impressive films about the political struggle during the civil war of 1918-1920 are created. Among such films are "Zangezur," the historical-patriotic epic "David-Bek," and the documentary-publicist film "Native Country." However, as a whole, the scope of Armenian cinema narrows in those years. In the 1950's the thaw begins and Armenian cinema is once again able to embark on professional development.
In the mid 1950's, the production of features and documentaries greatly increases. The filmmakers whowork in the sphere of cinema before the war gradually recover their mastery, and the new generation of filmmakers practice on short films. Movies about the legendary revolutionary Kamo, such as "Personally Known" and "An Extraordinary Assignment," are very popular during this period. The films "Northern Rainbow" and later "Star of Hope" reflect the history of the national-liberation movement. The experience of traditional arts is being assimilated in such films as "For Honor," "Cliff," "Coriolan," and in the musical comedy "Karine." On-screen cinematography reflects the mastery of its outstanding art professionals, and traditional melodramas, "Song of the First Love," "The Heart Sings," "Mother's Heart," and "About my Friend," enjoy great success. The film critics, pointing out these positive trends, are at the same time, however, dissatisfied by the general aesthetic level of the Armenian cinema and demand drastic changes. In the 1950's, Armenian cinema recovers its professionalism and sets off on a new artistic quest.
The fruits of these quests appear in the beginning of the 1960's. Short films such as "Broken Promise," "Tzhvzhik" orFired Lever reflect new, unassimilated material of the western Armenian reality. The unique color and original humor peculiar to that branch of Armenian culture introduced new intonations into Armenian cinema. A new tendency toward the strivings of man for liberation of personality is persevering. Short films such as "The Master and the Servant" and "Avdo's Car" stand forward for their freshness and mastery. Nevertheless, bold interpretations of events from the first years of the Soviet era in the latter film, arouse the anger of the leadership. The film is censored, distorted and even forbidden for screening by Armenia's leadership.
The achievements of Frounze Dovlatyan and Henrik Malyan are outstanding during this period. "Hello, It is Me" and "Triangle" are two films shot by these directors that play an important role in the history of Armenian cinema. A contemporary theme underlies these films and the author's vision drastically turns towards the deep understanding of the secret of the contemporary personality, the "inner world" of the man and the problems of his presence in this world. "Hello It is Me" is a film of wide scope about an Armenian physicist and the trials his generation experiences, the feelings of responsibility so characteristic of him, and how he cannot forget the burdens of his past, and about love. Conversely, the main action of the film "Triangle" takes place in an iron forge. The film reveals the lives of simple workers, whose jealously preserves the ties that bind them together and helps them survive and resist the big world.
For the first time, the civil war in Armenia of the early 1920's is depicted from a different angle in the film "Brother Saroyans." The hopelessness of when the nation is 'between the hammer and the anvil' of fighting political forces, is treated as a real tragedy. Among the achievements of those years are the film-poem "Seven Songs About Armenia," the documentary essay "Martiros Saryan" and the social drama "We and Our Mountains." All of these films interpret an absurd situation from the viewpoint of high morality. Successful depiction of classic literature in the films "Khatabala" and "Chaos" continue to persist during this period.
At the end of the 1960's, the cinematographers enter the sphere of high poetry. The film "The Color of Pomegranate" by Sergey Parajanov, cannot be classified under any film genrebecause of its uniqueness. The courageous search of A.Peleshyan into the realm of film language, molds into history the concept of distance editing, as well as other revelations, in his films "The Beginning," "We," "Seasons," "Our Century," and later in the 1990's, "The End" and "Life." The Armenian cinema of the 1960's reflects the contemporary level of national character and self-conscience, and a wide range of films gain international recognition during this time.
The artistic quests of Armenian filmmakers go well beyond the 1970's. In this decade a new generation of cinematographers emerge. A stable situation rules the film market and film production expands. Beginning in 1976, Hayfilm or Armenfilm, and the Studio of Documentary Films, movs to the Yerevan suburbs into a large, newly built studio with two pavilions, a modern sound studio, an animation division, a garage, several large warehouses for requisites and costumes, and a laboratory. The annual volume of films released by Hayfilm studio reachs to 6 or 7 films, and Hayk and Yerevan studios are systematically releasing several dozens of films per year. The genre and style of film production is diverse. Internal opposition and ethical resistance to the reality of the failing totalitarian system,penetrates into the concept of Armenian films. The heroes of Armenian films constantly face choices. The Retro style undergoes an original conversion in Armenian films. It no longer portrays the past from the angle of the present, nor the past revived today in a nostalgic manner, but instead the past evaluating and often convicting the present.
Among the films of 1970's are "Nahapet" and "Dzori Miro," both of which center around the 1915 Armenian genocide. The film "Delivery" narrates thedifficulties of the establishment of the Armenian state in the 1920's. The film "Autumn Sun" is a type of internal monologue. The director of the film "Here on This Crossroad" explores the routine of everyday life in a Yerevan district. The films "Our Daily Water," "Good Half of Life," "There, Over the Seven Mountains," "Master," and "A Lonely Nut-Tree" touch upon actual social-psychological problems. The genre of melodrama appearsin the films "A Piece of Sky (A Slap)" and "Live Long"enriched with new colors.nuances Among the most successful comedies of the 1970's are "The Soldier and the Elephant," "Men," "A Man From Olympus" and the short film "Mulberry Tree." Several decades later, the psychological drama about contemporary Armenian woman "Arevik," and the colorful film "A Bride From The North," are finally being shown on television. "Chronicle of Yerevan Days," "Lyrical March," "August" and some other films, undertake the feverish searches for new forms of expression and for a new glance to into Armenian reality. Two films, "Song of the Old Days" and "Tango of Our Childhood," become a monument to the second largest city of Armenia, Gyumri, which is later destroyed by the devastating earthquake of 1988.
In the 1980's, a unique series of television films about the treasury of the Armenian spiritual culture, called Matenadaran, are shot. The first film produced in the series is "Where Are You, the Man of God?" This film concerns the destiny of an Armenian intellectual in all the stages of his societal development.
The first Armenian animation film appears in 1937, but it is not until 1967 that Armenian animation films are produced on a regular basis. Later, Armenian animation films gain worldwide recognition and stand forward for the originality of their expressive and musical solutions.
Starting from the first documentary "Soviet Armenia," produced in 1924, Armenian documentary film production carries out its mission in a consistent and accurate manner. For several decades Armenian film creates the film-lithography of the life of its nation and reflects the major events in the history of the culture, and depicts the portraits of many outstanding Armenian figures such as heroes, scientists, and painters. However, at the end of the 1960's the poetical genres of Armenian documentaries undergo a rapid development. The authors, who introduce a lyrical intonation, carefully process the chronicled material, and a poetic image erects on the basis of documented fact. This trend, developed by the new generation of cinematographers, gains the approval of film critics. Many of these films are awarded prizes in many festivals. In the 1970's and 80's, though, an opposite trend develops. A documentary style rushes into Armenian feature film. In some of the films, the combination of feature films with the documentary elements creates a marvelous effect.
In the 1980's Armenian cinema finally reaches its maturity and is ready for the most complex and global artistic tasks. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the film industry takesk Armenian cinema by surprise. During this transitional stage the Armenian cinema of the 1990's finds itself in a very difficult situation. A new generation of talented filmmakers emerge. A range of films are created and win many awards and diplomas in international festivals and screenings. Film critics note the remarkable titles of the recent Armenian films such as, "Voice in the Wilderness," "Wind of Forgetfulness," "Hostages," "Labyrinth," "Blood," "The Last Station," "The Damned Ones," "Catastrophe" "Black and White," "God, Have Mercy." These films all reflect the reality and the state of tectonic tension that the Armenian nation suffers during the period of the demolition of epochs.
Nevertheless, the inquisitive glance of an artist does not confine itself to fixing the crisis, but tries also to find an outlet from the situation. A wide range of films are devoted to uncovering Parajanov's phenomenon. The films "Parajanov: The Last Spring" and "Parajanov: the Last Collage" gain wide recognition. Armenian filmmakers cut through the knot of the Karabagh conflict by means of cinema. The masters of documentaries fix all of the stages of heroic resistance. Meanwhile, cinematographers deal with the first attempts of poetical-publicist, and philosophical interpretation of the destiny of the nation in the period of tragedy, at the end of the century and millennium. There are many interesting ideas and projects to fit the 2000th anniversary of Christianity and 1700th anniversary of its declaration as a state religion in Armenia.
In the 1990's many Armenian filmmakers begin producing films at their own expenses. The economic crisis and the imperfect legislation often obstruct the integration of Armenian cinema into the free-market, and the young generation of filmmakers manage quite successfully to adapt to the new conditions. They learn quickly not to depend solely on government donations. It is inspiring that given some favorable conditions, Armenian cinema will once again make its fans happy.