From China to Portugal
Vahagn Khachatryan shares his cinematic stories
March 5, 2020 | by Creative Armenia
Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow Vahagn Khachatryan is a filmmaker who has created documentaries in China, Portugal, and Belgium. He sat with us to talk about his inspirations and aspirations, and the little and big stories in life.
CA: You have made films in China, Hungary, Portugal, and Belgium. Give us some insight into these films. In what ways did they connect and influence each other, if any?
VK: The idea of immersion in filmmaking was born in Beijing. I was about to graduate from the film production department at the Beijing Film Academy. For a long time, I had an idea of making a documentary about Chinese immigrant families in Beijing who were collecting recycled bottles by bicycle and at the end of the day had so many that you could only see a giant moving bag full of empty bottles.
The movie, called Lao Huang, is the only cinéma vérité style documentary that I have done so far. Since my second movie First Step, I’ve mixed direct cinema with fantasy and fairytales more frequently.
My latest movie called The Moon The Sun And The Musketeers is inspired by Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. This one is a pure fairytale for me, even though it did participate mostly in documentary film festivals like Visions du Réel, Dok Leipzig, and 30 more International film festivals.
CA: What are your techniques and style of telling a cinematic story.
Every story has a unique way of being told as every story belongs to someone and reveals their inner world. From childhood, my way of communicating with the outer world was ultimately through images. Initially, it started with drawings of fairytales but then shifted to photography.
Even though I find it very important in filmmaking to work as a team, I prefer working alone. I believe that there is a thin line of privacy and a special connection between me and my characters and every extra person on set presents a high risk of breaking that connection.
My latest movie The Moon The Sun and The Musketeers was mainly produced by me. It was about a Portuguese pagan village called Sendim, located on the border of Portugal and Spain. It was a very closed community with its own traditions and language, and it took me a long time to gain the trust of these people and get their permission to take out a camera and start shooting.
CA: What subjects do you prefer exploring through your films?
VK: I believe there are no certain subjects for an artist to explore constantly, unless they are cosmic. Your environment, books that you read, the music you hear, and the information that you receive have a lot of influence on the stories and movies you craft.
For me, the subjects are changing constantly, and I find it very beautiful. Currently, the movie which I am working on with my co-director Aren Malakyan is called 5 Dreamers And A Horse. So I would say that currently, I am exploring the idea of dreams and how they transform us.
CA: Tell us something important you’ve learned while working within the film industry in China, Portugal, Hungary, and Belgium.
VK: I’ve learned about people. They are the most inspiring creatures and their energy, failed and successful life experiences fill the air with wonderful stories to tell. If you are open to the world, you notice many cinematic stories.
We were 23 people from all over Europe, “nomading” together in different villages and slams of China, Portugal, and other counties, looking for human stories and transforming them into movies. We had limited equipment and time to come up with something unique in a place where you have never been and don’t speak a word of the language. And I guess the most important thing that I’ve learned while working with these people is to listen to their stories and observe without judgment.
CA: Have you decided how you are going to use your Creative Armenia - AGBU Fellowship?
VK: Currently I am working on three film projects. Two of them are in development and the third one is in the post-production stage. I believe that the Creative Armenia fellowship will help me move forward with those projects.
CA: What is your long-term vision for your creative career?
VK: Making movies and creating a successful film production studio that will discover new talents for independent cinema.