Jivan Avetisyan: The Broken Voice of Art
The award-winning director speaks about the role of art during war
October 8, 2020 | by Creative Armenia
Behind the people protecting Artsakh and Armenia are stories of tragedy and heroism. Filmmaker Jivan Avetisyan has made it his mission to capture the devastating impact of the decade-long war and life under constant threat of missile attacks on civilians. We spoke with the renowned filmmaker about his new film – Gate to Heaven – and his artistic responsibility toward his homeland.
CA: Recently we learned that your film Gate to Heaven has been removed from the Moscow International Film Festival program. Tell us more about it.
JA: On the morning of September 27, the Armenian-Azerbaijani war resumed. In the afternoon of the same day, we received an official letter from the Moscow IFF stating the following, "Our apologies, but you will surely understand that due to the current situation, we can not screen the film in the official program of the film festival." This, of course, was shocking for us, simply unacceptable, because in just a few days, on October 4, the world premiere of the film was to take place. Prior to that letter, we were in touch with the staff of the film festival, planning the arrival and presence of the starring actress of the film, Tatiana Spivakova. But it turned out that right at the break of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the doors of the film festival were closed to us.
No other explanation can be given to this incident than the fact that the film was removed from the film festival under Azerbaijani pressure. This is confirmed by the unofficial letter received from the film festival stating that Azerbaijan initially tried to stop the screening of the film once the news about the film's inclusion in the film festival became known. However, the organizers of the film festival responded to the complaint of the Azerbaijan's ambassador to Russia, saying that the film does not represent aggression or anti-propaganda against Azerbaijan, it is about human tragedy, about people carrying the consequences of war. However, the organizers changed their decision when the war resumed. The explanation for removing the film from the official program was given as follows, "Since the film is thematically related to Nagorno Karabakh, this decision was made under the light of the clashes between Armenians and Azeris in Moscow. If the military actions stop and a ceasefire is established, the film will be included in the official program for 2021." For me and for my crew, a decision from such a leading film festival remains unacceptable, insulting, and allows us to think that the festival has an unserious and unprofessional approach.
CA: As a film director, what do you think the role of an artist should be in the current war situation?
JA: Everyone should be able to be useful to the homeland through his or her profession, both during the times of peace and war. On my end, I have been trying to be useful with my films for years.
But when the war situation intensifies and the presence of artists on the battleground is needed, the profession becomes less of a priority — we must act first as people, as Armenians.
CA. Many of your films such as Tevanik, Broken Childhood, and the above-mentioned Gate to Heaven are stories from the Artsakh liberation war. Why Artsakh?
JA: Why not Artsakh? Artsakh is living through unspeakably difficult times today. The civilian population is under attack, a battle of life and death is going on the frontline. If Artsakh had been recognized by the international communities, such a situation would not exist today. I experienced the bitterness of war when I was a child, I still feel the disgusting smell of war․․․ Today we are witnessing it all again. I do not want my children, our children to go through all that.
At the same time, in my films, I represent not the war, but human destinies and people who bear the consequences of war, strive for peace — peace for the soul. I want to represent Artsakh not only during the years of war but also in times of peace. I want to tell the world about my father's village (The Last Inhabitant (2017)). I want to tell the world about the heaven where I spent my childhood and adolescence.
CA. What is your message to the international community, to the artists across the art fields, in regards to the current war between Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and Azerbaijan?
JA: These days, we have witnessed how art can be fused with politics, how the voice of art can be broken under the influence of political pressure, particularly from Azerbaijan. All these prove that we are not only at war with Azerbaijan on the frontline but also on a cultural level. I want the international community to realize this vile practice of Azerbaijan and to take appropriate actions to speak up.