By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN – A group of documentary filmmakers from Armenia was present in Boston for several days at the end of November as part of a trip to collect material for a new film on the history of Armenian rugs. Hayk Documentary Film Studio Director Shushanik Mirzakhanyan, with film director Grigor Harutyunyan, cameraman Samvel Babasyan, and cameraman’s assistant Armen Harutyunyan have been visiting museums, private collections, and rug experts in New York, Boston and Washington D. C. for their project.
Hayk Studio is a state studio which is the heir of the Soviet-era ArmenKino. It existed from the 1920s under various names. Today, it works under the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia and receives financing through the state. Every year it produces 12 to 13 documentary films on a wide variety of subjects. First it assembles film proposals, and a list is prepared to be reviewed by the Art Council (Gegharvestakan Khorhurd). The final list is given to the Ministry of Culture for its input.
Film topics include historical themes, art, culture (for example, the 500th anniversary of printing in Armenian was commemorated through a film which traced the beginnings of Armenian printing in Europe), and current events, such the Nagorno Karabagh movement, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the career and fate of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and the odysseys of the Armenian ships Kilikya and Armenia. Some documentaries deal with Armenian Americans, like a long film on William Saroyan.
The studio negotiates with various television stations in Armenia to show their works, though the stations can only pay small symbolic amounts to the studio for this. Films are also shown in festivals, and often win prizes.
A second important function of the studio is to document interesting events taking place every year in Armenia for archival purposes. The studio attempts to cover all important events, whether in the villages or in the cities of Armenia. Whatever is known in advance is filmed, and what cannot be immediately filmed is somehow covered afterwards through interviews. Though the studio is funded by the government, it has the freedom to film all types of events, including protests against the government and opposition movement activities, if they are significant.
The archives of the studio from the early period of Soviet Armenia are kept in Russia, so every year a trip is taken to the Russian archive by the studio director and others to choose portions for digitalization. These materials are then added to the Yerevan archive.
While the documentaries are usually produced in Armenian, some have subtitles in English, and occasionally dubbing into English and other languages may be arranged, though this is more expensive.
The film on Armenian rugs was begun two years ago. The basis of the film is a book by rug specialist Volkmar Ganzhorn, whose book was translated into Armenian several years ago. Last year he and his wife came to Armenia and were interviewed at the Megerian Carpet Factory in Yerevan. He pointed out that the carpet and the culture formed around it composed a part of the Armenian identity.
The Hayk Studio team has already interviewed other non-Armenian rug specialists, such as the editor of Hali magazine, and have filmed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, what is called the world’s oldest known pile rug, the Pazyrik. In Europe other interviews of specialists and carpets have taken place.
In Boston, the team was hosted by Jack and Eva Medzorian, and director Harutyunyan pointed out how inspirational it was to be with dedicated Armenians like the Medzorians in the diaspora.
The studio’s budget is much lower than that of private firms, and it works with older equipment, yet it manages to do quite a lot through innovative approaches and hard work. It hopes to eventually raise money for better digital film equipment from sponsors in the diaspora and Armenia.
For more information on the activities of Hayk Documentary Film Studio, excerpts from some of its works, and contact information, see www.HaykDFS.com.