The Art of Observation: Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan on the Transformative Power of Film
Get to know Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan, a filmmaker, producer, and our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Sep 8, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Meet Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan, an Armenian filmmaker and producer, and observant and subtle storyteller. A visionary artist, she has been working on European co-productions since 2016 producing films in Estonia, the UK, Armenia, and Portugal. The first short film Nare produced, an art-house film-noir Taniel narrated by Sean Bean, has been screened at more than 20 festivals with 16 awards. As the founder of the production company Fermata Film Studio, Nare has also been championing female voices from Armenia, through international co-productions. Currently, the filmmaker is directing Silenced, a multimedia project that explores the consequences of the recent Artsakh war on children.
With such a rich background, Nare has many stories to share. Some of them she did in her exclusive interview. Learn more about our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow, as she reminisces on growing up in the 90s Armenia, contemplates the essential qualities of a filmmaker, and reflects on the importance of representing female-led stories in Armenian cinema.
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a filmmaker and producer.
I believe that at its core, filmmaking is all about storytelling. My journey as a storyteller began long before I realised it.
Amidst the Artsakh war in the '90s, with limited access to electricity, I vividly recall standing before a small, crimson television set, my hand pressed against the darkened screen, yearning for the continuation of a film that had abruptly ended. We would never get electricity for long enough to watch an entire feature film. As a disappointed child, my solace lay in conjuring the film's continuation all by myself. I would let my imagination roam freely as I gazed at the intricate shadows cast by the oak tree's leaves outside my bedroom window. I introduced new characters, blended genres, assumed the roles of both the Muses and the Moirai, and determined the fates of my beloved heroes, weighing in whether they deserved happy endings or earned remembrance.
As I grew older, I made the conscious decision to pursue a career in journalism. However, during my studies, I realised that my passion extended beyond the mere presentation of facts. I aspired to convey stories on a deeply personal level, saturated with genuine emotion.
Upon earning my bachelor's degree, I ventured into the world of filmmaking as a member of production teams and as an assistant director. It was during this time that I crossed paths with the writer-director Garo Berberian, who was in the process of developing his short film, Taniel. Being an admirer of Daniel Varujan's poetry, our connection was instantaneous. I took on the role of the producer of the film, which enjoyed considerable success and helped me get accepted to Kino Eyes: The European Film Masters program. During and after my studies in three countries (Portugal, Scotland, and Estonia) I focused on international co-productions.
Recently, I realised that there are two distinct types of stories I want to tell. One group is the stories I wish to produce, while the other one is comprised of films I long to write and direct. These two roles hold distinct places in my heart. It's often said that one should never say never, but at this point in my life, I find it unlikely that I will produce the films I direct.
"When I think of the premise of a story, it invariably arrives with a complementary playlist, a distinctive colour palette, specific typography, and an evocative cover painting."
Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
I perceive the creative process in filmmaking as a mosaic of diverse art forms. Growing up in a period in Armenian history marked by electricity shortages and economic crisis, I was ten years old when I first experienced the magic of a film on a big screen.
Meanwhile, my connection to cinema was forged through a myriad of other art forms, be it my father’s music cassettes, my mother’s visual art books with paintings and photographs, or my frequent visits to my grandparents’ extensive library filled with world literature. These childhood memories have left an indelible imprint on my perception of films. Literature imparted the art of crafting stories and shaping character arcs, dance illuminated the complexity of choreography and blocking, painting instilled the principles of composition and colour, and music revealed the secrets of rhythm and suspense.
When I think of the premise of a story, it invariably arrives with a complementary playlist, a distinctive colour palette, specific typography, and an evocative cover painting. Only after gathering all these elements into a single tapestry, I can dive deep into the narrative. These components vary with each story I undertake. My latest story idea came hand in hand with the paintings of Ferdinand Hodler, enfolded in the hues of the blue hour, and accompanied by Armenian folk lullabies.
Yet, above all else, life is the original source of inspiration. I firmly believe that one of the paramount skills for any creative person is the art of observation. Mastering it demands substantial time, humility, and boundless patience. Everywhere we turn, a distinct universe unfurls with a compelling human story. It's a matter of perceiving and seizing it; the one who does so should be the teller of that particular story. I maintain a notebook full of discrete scenes and characters, grounded in real-life observations and dialogues that might eventually come together to become parts of films in the future.
In 2020 you founded Fermata Film Studio, a Yerevan-based studio dedicated to (co)producing feature and documentary films with compelling human stories and a strong focus on empowering female voices. What inspired you to embark on this path? What impact do you hope Fermata Film Studio will have on the film industry in Armenia and beyond?
Founding Fermata Film Studio was somewhat unplanned. I had returned to Armenia when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly began. During this uncertain period, an opportunity presented itself, a call for projects from the national cinema fund. It dawned on me that I could utilise the time in lockdown as productively as possible.
That resolution led to the establishment of Fermata Film in 2020, and, remarkably, our initial endeavours met with success. We are currently involved in a significant number of productions. As a studio, we are committed to (co)producing feature and documentary films that showcase compelling stories, with an emphasis on female voices and perspectives in storytelling. As of today all of our projects are led by female directors. Though this focus may evolve in the future to include male talent, our priority remains on featuring the female gaze, which has been lacking in Armenian cinema of the past century. We aim to fill this gap by cooperating with our colleagues and developing the country’s independent film industry. We are driven by the desire to create films that not only draw attention to Armenia but also share unique stories that have remained untold for a long time. Our goal is to present a vibrant, authentic palette, from rural settings to urban landscapes and voices that traverse the journey from one to the other.
When selecting projects to collaborate on, my goal is to create poignant engaging films that will speak to the audiences, offering them both comfort and discomfort, provoking thought and emotion. I am also aware that to boost the local industry, we need to create a working distribution strategy that would help local projects reach international audiences. That’s one of the reasons why I try to make all my projects international co-productions to increase their potential for distribution.
Your current project, Silenced, is a short film and an audiovisual essay that delves into the personal experiences and survivor testimonies of the 2020 war by the displaced people of Artsakh. As the director and writer of the project, what made you want to capture these stories through multiple media? How do you think each medium enhanced the storytelling of Silenced?
My aim is to craft a moving and thought-provoking film that seamlessly weaves together visual and auditory elements, exploring the universal themes of displacement and survival. Silenced delves into a single night in the lives of displaced siblings stranded on their way to safety.
"Silenced is a tribute to innocence murdered during wars."
The characters are a collective representation of myself and the people that I know; the dialogues are grounded in reality. We follow the story through the eyes of a teenage girl, Agnes, who has to take care of her brother, despite being a child herself and failing to process what happened to her home.
Silenced is a tribute to innocence murdered during wars. The story is about displaced women, deprived of everyday necessities of life, and displaced children, whose childhood was taken away from them too early. There is no need to explain how important it is to share these ‘lost’ war stories, in the aftermath of the devastating tragedy and the ongoing blockade of Artsakh. My goal with this project is to raise awareness and reach as many individuals as possible; a task that I sensed would require more than one medium to achieve effectively.
Sometimes I feel like there is a certain ‘look’ of the Artsakh war that is being curated, presented through the prism of otherness. The images used are often the explosions, the bombings, the ruins after blasts, and people in black and in grief. While these images certainly capture some facets of the war, they fail to paint a complete picture. I've acknowledged the need to reveal the hidden aspects. My characters are colourful; scared yet resilient; they are full of life and still nurture dreams, even when those dreams have been reduced to simple, everyday routines.
With the film, we will reach a broader audience. This medium will include the full story told through the child’s perspective. The film is tailored for the festival circuit and international distribution. While the audiovisual essay will focus on the six characters individually, allowing audiences to transcend mere facts and statistics and immerse themselves in the intricate psyche of each character, their personal fears, and their inner ‘silence.’ This version is intended for display at museums and exhibitions, fostering a deeper connection with the characters.
In addition, we use social media, specifically an Instagram account, to shed light on the endangered Artsakh culture and dialect. This platform serves as an informative resource.
What do you do as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and, later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?
I am currently producing Silenced and plan to complete the post-production by the end of the year. Simultaneously, I am developing Salomé - a transmedia art project that introduces a complex female anti-hero. The project is a way of rearticulating the search for identity and uses the themes of voyeurism and desire. It finds its artistic roots in the modernist elements present in Soviet Armenian Cinema, both in visual aesthetics and narrative structure.
Through my company Fermata Film, I plan to continue bringing Armenian stories and the ‘Armenianness’ in stories to international screens. In collaboration with my colleagues, we are designing a series of in-depth master classes to share our experiences with high school and university students, providing them with valuable insights into various facets of the creative industries. We aim to actively involve these young talents in our ongoing productions, allowing them to put their skills to the test and gain real-world experience in the field. We envision these master classes as a gateway to inspire and nurture the next generation of creative minds.