The Intuitive World
Meet Christine Haroutounian, a visionary filmmaker and our 2022 Fellow.
November 7, 2022 | by Creative Armenia
Visions, sounds, time, and space are all part of Christine Haroutounian’s creative toolkit. A perceptive filmmaker and a UCLA graduate, she committed her life to cinema; to capturing the ethereal, barely present, and intuitive. And her devotion has been paying off. World – Christine’s first short film – made an uproar at prestigious festivals including International Film Festival Rotterdam and Ann Arbor Film Festival. It was awarded the Golden Apricot Stone for Best Short Film at the 18th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival and earned her the title of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2020. Yet while impressive, with an even more ambitious feature film in making, all these achievements only mark the beginning of her creative life.
None of it could be accomplished without the care and thought Christine puts into every project. Some of the insights she shared in this interview, inviting everyone into her creative life. Explore the fascinating ideas and get to know our 2022 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow.
Creative Armenia: Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a filmmaker.
Christine Haroutounian: I am an artist turned filmmaker. I got really obsessed with cinema when I was around 18 years old. I’d rent $1 arthouse DVDs from this hole-in-the-wall called A Video Store Named Desire and go to the local cinematheques any chance I got.
I loved cinema more than anything but didn’t think it was something I could do. Years later my boyfriend at the time told me he was thinking of film school and I finally blurted out that I wanted to do film. I applied at the last minute and got in. When I told my friends and family it felt like a big confession but it seemed like everyone knew but me.
CA: Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them.
CH: If you really take from it all and don’t waste anything, life is the highest inspiration. I learned this when I was writing my first feature script in Armenia recently—after two years of absorbing this film, I wrote the script in five days and didn’t feel the need to dominate or categorize anything. I was free from concepts, fixed plans, or needing to know and control, and accepted everything that presented itself to me. It didn’t feel like work. Anything that inspires freedom, beauty, genuine spirit—these are incredible gifts and can come from everywhere and anyone. Sometimes a bucket of water can ignite my process more than a Lucrecia Martel film or Mayakovsky poem.
CA: Drifting on the verge of a dream and reality, your creative works tackle unexpected subject matters in a visually striking way. How do you decide on what stories need to be told through film and through what cinematic language?
CH: I don’t consider myself a storyteller nor do I view cinema as a medium for storytelling. I use the cinematic tools of vision, sound, time, and space and let my intuition guide how those elements will come together, or fall apart to create an experience. I avoid rationalizing my instincts or having any political or social message, and observe whatever takes hold of me instead. Having any agenda while creating will lead me into a corner.
Whatever I do has to be a necessity. Considering how long the process of making a film is, I have to be obsessed and have total faith in it. If I’m tentative, it’s not happening. When I’m directing, I won’t move on to the next shot if something feels off because I can’t lie to myself and the cinematic language builds on top of itself.
CA: Currently, you are bringing to life your first feature film, After Dreaming. Tell us a little bit about the project. What role does your relationship with the Armenian identity play in the telling of the story?
CH: After Dreaming follows the odyssey of a young girl in search of her father, whose death is kept a secret from her. Some of it is shaped by these unfathomable details of my family’s migration, told through a warped lens of personal memory.
My Armenian identity is such an intimate and tangled thing, but I don’t lead with it in my day-to-day life and especially in my films. I am always a bit suspicious of works that need to be contextualized with the artist’s background as if that makes the work inherently important or legitimate. This has become a real obsession in the arts. A film should speak for itself and doesn’t need further extrapolation by the creator.
Life funnels through every human being, and I pay attention to as much of that stimuli as I can, which inevitably finds its way into my films—sensations, memories, dreams, fears, prayers, knowledge, relationships—elements of my identity are scattered there too, just not on a primary or even secondary level.
CA: You started your creative journey as a photographer, shifting to directing and production later on. What inspired the transition? How do you think your background in photography affects the way you write and produce your films?
I don’t have much faith in the art world and gravitate toward what gives me the most freedom. Cinema is at once more mysterious and straightforward as an art form, and also an industry.
Being a photographer, my nature is to be an observer. I don’t think in terms of story but of vision, of atmosphere, of affect. In order to make a film, I pre-visualize and hear every single element and connect them all together through rhythm and space. The film fully exists in my head—along with everything in the frame—before I make it. I write detailed shot lists and always know where the camera should be, and I’m extremely particular about lighting. I’m shocked when directors give this all to the cinematographer to steer. Isn’t this a fundamental part of directing, having a point of view? I promise that all this prep is actually freeing. It lets me relax and observe on set, to be open to things that arise and be present with my cast and crew.
CA: What project of yours are you most proud of? What makes it special for you?
CH: So far, my short film, World. It has always been a dream to make films in Armenia and considering I co-produced most of it from Los Angeles, it is remarkable how everything came together. Making films in Armenia is not necessarily easy and has its own logic. I’m happy with how well it has done in the festival circuit, but what I’m most proud of is the community of filmmakers I worked with in Armenia to make the film, and how that continues to grow with my first feature film set there. World was shot with a skeleton crew and everyone on set truly wanted to be there and believed in the film. So many strangers helped us too, supporting us more than they know.
Another highlight was screening it at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival. It was my first in-person screening since the start of the pandemic. Playing my film on the big screen in an iconic theater to a sold-out crowd—there is nothing that can compare. I don’t think anyone was expecting a film like it to win the Golden Apricot prize.
CA: What is your long-term vision for your creative career?
CH: I don’t view it as a career, it’s more of a process of becoming—a creative life. Right now, I’m making my first feature film.
CA: What do you plan on doing as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow?
CH: I spent an unforgettable winter in Armenia writing my feature-length script in a village and location scouting all over the country, alone. It was a profound experience.