Thick Dramatic Juice
And other creative cocktails with filmmaker Victoria Aleksanyan
January 28, 2018 | by Creative Armenia
Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellow Victoria Aleksanyan is a director of short films, a photographer and a storyteller. Her films celebrate the subjective and convey ordinarily unique pictures of life. Having concluded her studies at Columbia University in New York, she has returned to work and create in Yerevan.
CA: How do you choose what kind of stories to tell through film?
VA: I am drawn to stories that tell new, undiscovered details about human nature, stories that have thick dramatic juice and at the same time show life from a particular and bold perspective. I need to feel that somebody or something is able to carry the weight of subjectivity on its shoulders and take me, and my audience on a magical journey through its point of view or by granting me, the filmmaker, its darkest secrets and desires. Then I can take a plunge into finding the moments that matter the most for me and link them into a story. I feel like the world, although globalized, is still very uneven everywhere and I’m fascinated by variations and interpretations of the same universal concepts across different cultures and social classes. I can say, that I’m drawn to stories that are build out of ordinary life in extraordinary settings, and can both entertain and teach us to be better in some way. These days I try to find such stories everywhere I go, be it a street, a museum, a friends’ get-together, or home.
CA: How did your perspective on Armenia change after studying and living in the US?
VA: My perspective on Armenia didn’t change as a whole. I always loved my country and was proud to be an Armenian, something that most of us have by default. What was bothering me the most was our unquestioned social arrangement with its taboos, and a system of injustice as a way to thrive. Growing up in a family which was living in a denial of new capitalistic values and severe rules, and staying in its own Soviet-style bubble, I felt I needed to find my own way of understanding my country, but I couldn’t yet. After I left, I had a chance to see a lot of social, economic and educational issues that bothered me while I was living in Armenia, but I wasn’t able to identify them and name them out loud. It gave me a chance to live life differently and discover things that were hidden too deep inside me and made me feel this inner disarrangement of things.
CA: And your perspective on film?
VA: I think film is an art which can also be a commercial success.
CA: Who or what are some of your creative influences?
VA: I started watching European cinema and auteurs like Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Kieslowski, Von Trier, Almodovar, Kusturica, Tarkovsky, when I was in my late teens. I fell in love. Then when I saw Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment, I decided that I must become a filmmaker myself. His storytelling was so elaborate. Despite the layered and complex story, and even though film’s visual moodiness made it look very mysterious, I felt like I was recognizing some familiar craft. While sitting in the theater, I felt an inexplicable “A-ha!” moment, as if I somehow cracked the secret of storytelling. This moment made me finally dare to submit to the dream of becoming a filmmaker.
Among my other creative influences are music of Bach, my father’s photography magazines, Russian literature which I read a lot while studying at Russian-Armenian University, Greek mythology, classical poetry, modernist art, and minimalist music.
CA: You mentioned that you also write poetry. Tell us more.
VA: I love reading classical narrative poems. These days I like very abstract ones as sources of inspiration. I’ve been writing poems since the age of 9 or 10. I’ve published some of them on my literary blog www.quansh.wordpress.com
CA: What practices do you think the Armenian film industry needs most?
VA: We need qualified producers to help Armenia expand its network internationally, with industry professionals around the world. We also need good storytelling workshops and master classes. We need to make more great films available here to watch, including our own Armenian ones. We need to practice within a certain Film law. We would benefit from giving financial support to current and up-and-coming directors and producers to go abroad for educational trainings, fellowships, writing labs and residencies.
CA: What degree of your filmmaking is autobiographical?
VA: All of it. I try to make everything autobiographical in some way. I look for personal links, and I struggle if I don’t find them.
CA: You have recently become passionate about still photography. What stories call for the
still versus the moving picture?
VA: I am fascinated with photography because it gives me immediate satisfaction, something I can’t get from filmmaking because it takes too long. Way too long. A still image doesn’t typically require a lot of time or money. The type of photography I like doing is without complicated, expensive set-ups. I love documentary photography, landscapes, city scapes and natural portraits. I like writing stories to them. My father is a retired studio photographer, and I grew up watching him work from home. I spent hours watching him develop and print photos in his dark room. I was obsessed with being in that world, but despite my requests to learn, I wasn’t really taught anything technical then, since my dad believed it’s too hard a craft for a child, even a teen. So, I had to learn how to push a button on a camera and pull focus by myself. There are a lot of stories around that can be told through a single photo. Such a thought makes me happy and keeps me constantly “in shape.”