The Imagined Farewell
Our interview with Tigran Nersisian, the winner of the $2,000 Self-Quarantine Challenge
Aug 6, 2020 | by Creative Armenia
Radiant colors, shots, and narration came together to tell an honest story in Tigran Nersisian’s pandemic-inspired short film. Delivered straight from the darkest corners of his subconsciousness, Tiko brought victory to its director in our creative challenge. Learn more about Tigran and his poetic style from our exclusive interview.
CA: Give us more insight into your film. How did you conceive the idea?
TN: It was late March; two weeks into the pandemic. I was bored, confused, and had spent too much time with myself. I also wanted to make something extraordinary. Limitations pushed my mind to come up with expressive visuals that communicated my feelings, emotions, worries, and memories. For this film, I used shots, color, music, and editing in a different way than usual.
Tiko was almost entirely made by my subconscious. At some point, I was doubting if I would be understood, but then I decided to make the film for myself. That decision gave me complete freedom.
After submitting the film for Creative Armenia’s Self-Quarantine Challenge, I felt a strong desire to continue developing it. There were more things boiling in me that I wanted to say. I tried to keep my intentions as pure as possible — I believe it’s essential for an artist.
CA: Your film was distinguished for its poetic qualities and seemed like an homage to such filmmakers as Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. Tell us more about its style and what inspired you.
TN: Being compared to Tarkovsky or Bergman is the best compliment for a filmmaker. Usually, I am also being compared to Parajanov. However, no matter how much it flatters me, I think that the similarities are thematic rather than visual. The themes in Tiko are vanity, childhood, and depression. Auteurs like Tarkovsky and Parajanov have heavily explored these themes in their films. Paired with an unconventional approach to shots, music, and language, these masters’ films immediately resonate with each other.
As for the visual inspiration, while working on Tiko I watched lots of great films from one of the Sight & Sound’s lists, a popular British film magazine. Many of those films were quite poetic, but the visual language of the French directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Luis Buñuel alongside David Lynch have left the biggest emotional impact on me. Sometimes, I wouldn’t fully understand the film, but a particular shot would shock me or evoke strong emotions.
I was also inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. It was packed with metaphors and symbolism and so different from anything I had read.
CA: Originally from Russia, you are currently based in the US. Do you think having the experience of living in two different worlds influences the way you tell a story through film?
TN: I am an immigrant. Born in Armenia, raised in Russia, and currently living in the States, I am influenced by all three cultures and languages. It’s been seven years since we moved to the United States, but I am still very connected to the Russian media, culture, and language. In the same way, I was connected to the Armenian world when we moved to Russia in 2000. When deciding on the narrative language of the film, it was clear that I should do it in Russian. I can use and control it much better than Armenian or English.
At the same time, my youth was filled with a severe longing for Armenia. I would play my little dhol, sing Armenian songs, and dream about visiting Armenia while living in our tiny Russian “dacha” in the middle of nowhere. In other words, my immigration experiences have not only influenced how I create films but also made me who I am.
To understand the film without subtitles, one should know both Russian and Armenian. The same is true for Tiko.
CA: Did your personal quarantine and the Self-Quarantine Challenge influence your methods, techniques, and tools of creation?
TN: Being both behind and on camera is quite challenging. All the specialists on film sets whom we usually take for granted – such as focus puller, gaffer, and sound recorder – play an essential role in filmmaking. Filmmaking by its nature is a very collaborative process. To fulfill those roles, I had to plan ahead and do dozens of shots to get it right. I came up with a rig that allowed me to see myself in an external monitor when filming. Focus and lighting were the hardest. Sometimes everything would be perfect, but the soft-focus would ruin the shot. While the process was time-consuming, there was no rush.
On the other hand, I don’t think I could make Tiko in a normal production environment. I think one of the reasons why it worked was because I didn’t have to explain anything to anyone. The cinematographer in me trusted the director in me who trusted the actor in me.
Lastly, the limitations caused by both working alone and shooting only in my bedroom pushed me to come up with creative solutions that made the film interesting.
CA: What are your creative resolutions for the post-COVID world?
TN: Right now, I am casting for my next short film Churki which is about Azerbaijani and Armenian high school students who have to unite against skinheads. I hope to film it this coming winter in Russia.
Tiko taught me that I don’t really need much to make a film, so I have several ideas for short films and documentaries that I will begin working on soon. I am looking for actors who would trust my vision and be willing to make something different from what the audience is used to seeing.