The participation of a director in a documentary film is an absent presence. With that absent presence the director is trying to touch the senses, the mind and the soul of the film audience without a previously developed script, staging and artistic design.
Artavazd Peleshyan’s name is equivalent to a world-famous genius in the history of documentary film. Sergei Parajanov has called him “an authentic geniuses”. When talking about him Alexander Sukorov is using the attribute “genius” without reservations. In 1974 Artavazd Peleshyan published his book “Distance Montage” and in 1988 the book “My Cinema”: both of them have the value of a film encyclopedia. His new cinematographic perspective not only created the distance montage film trick, but a new style and a new interpretation of filmmaking. It simply shocked the cinema world.
The language and the undeniable supremacy of the image dominate the consciousness and the soul of the audience. It penetrates the human brain and the black-and-white tape passes in front of your eyes. There a woman is giving birth to a child and merging the beats of her heart with the music of the great life, the seasons of the year follow each other. The director draws the attention of human beings on human creations as it is the earth of people. People are just traveling by train. This is a usual trip at first glance: the camera has captured big shots with amazing accuracy. The cameraman is secretly shooting the director who has appeared among the train passengers. This has become the unique case when Peleshyan is using his own footage in the film “The End”. “If I knew that the cameraman has also shot me I would not insert that footage in the film. But as he had done it in a hidden way, I decided to use it,” Peleshyan says.
On one occasion I asked him about his opinion of his own role of Revaz in the film “We and Our Mountains”, and his reply was the following: “Every person makes a big mistake at least once in his life. It was my mistake which I cannot correct, as it is already late.”
Artavazd Peleshyan hasn’t shot a film for 18 years. He lives in Moscow, teaches, gives master classes at various universities in different countries and writes books. Many people express regrets that Pelehsyan is not making films anymore and claim that his films are sure to become masterpieces if created. He has a lot of film projects, one of which is the “Homo Sapiens” which has been presented in his book “My Cinema”.
In Autumn Artavazd Pelashyan came to Armenia after years of interval. The occasion was the invitation of master classes at the Yerevan State Institute of Theater and Cinematography. Everyone was excited and impressed because of his arrival at the same time feeling a kind of guilty that the film scripts of the master existed only in his talks and mind and there were no opportunities to bring them to life. The director who avoided crowded and noisy places, meetings and interviews, answered some questions in relation to the cinema and to his films. Each meeting with him should be considered an exceptional and unprecedented success. The meeting began with the showing of the four documentary films “The Earth of People”, “The Seasons of the Year’, “The End’ and “Life”.
The features of cinema and its differences from the other art disciplines.
“I rarely watch my films, only on such kind of occasions. They are good films, I like them (laughing). Unfortunately the screen was bad at this time, but the films are good.
Once I said that my films are living longer because of my mistakes, and I am saying it again. My master told me “shoot a film but don’t speak”. Cinema is not a synthetic art, it is an independent art. It has no connection with the literature. Cinema does not feed from the sources of literature, music or fine arts, rather it feeds from the same source as above mentioned art disciplines feed. And whatever is recorded on the tape is not still a film art. A fiction film is different from a feature one. A documentary film, as well as a feature one can be fictional.
A long interval, a creation break: The result is the empty tape.
I also regret not shooting anymore. In 1968 I wrote the script of the film “Homo Sapiens”. It was supposed to be a feature film for which a significant amount of money was needed: one million dollars. But I was lucky: in 1989 the State Cinema confirmed my script and the film budget. I was very happy but one year later the Soviet Union collapsed. I don’t give up on “Homo Sapiens”, although I have other scripts of both documentary and feature films. “Homo Sapiens” is also a feature film. If I shoot that film, my other film will just seem to be small sketches in comparison with it. There are so many innovations in that film that are enough for me till the end of my life. I also have the script of a full-length feature film “Armenian World” that hasn’t been shot because of the lack of financial resources. I have seen all that films and I want you to see them too.”
The features, style and the message of Peleshyan films.
I have my way, and the other director have their way. I want to share my inventions and impression with you through my films. The most important thing in cinematography is to rely on film language, there is no other way. I will not write the script as long as I know that the film is ready. Some decades ago we were shooting a film in Goris. I needed a vertical image of the mountains, but the cameraman was shooting a horizontal one and stating that it was more beautiful. And I agreed that it was more beautiful but again stated that I needed a vertical footage. I am always present in my films. The cameraman holds the camera and I hold him. I don’t like colored tape and my films were shot in black and white, although my latest film “The End” is shot on a colored tape. The films helps us to decide whether it should be colored or not. I mean the concepts of a colored film and a colored tape are differed from each other.
Again and again about the distance montage.
I use a different perspective in my films: I am not interested in connecting the footages with each other, rather I am interested in separating them, putting them away and inserting a different image between them. I think that footages placed away from each other are talking to each other better, and not only to each other but also to all the images inserted between them. This is the mechanism. The present absence of the footage is always visible. If we study a film we can see that a footage is missing in the film but its effect is present. It is the essence of the absent image.
The presence and the significance of short and impressive subtitles.
I don’t know who says “I am tired” and then continues “Do you think it is better somewhere else?” Of course I have written that subtitles but it is not clear who is saying it. It is an indirect conversation. The heroes are saying “I am tired”. But it is the same everywhere, everyone is getting tired. What are those subtitles giving to the films? I want to do a comparison. A rocket passes through the first, the second and the third steps before rising to the space. These subtitles are playing the same role, later they quickly disappear and die charging the film. The dead subtitles are not needed anymore, they are unnecessary. They have already carried out their work and have disappeared.
Footage and music montage.
I don’t edit a footage with music. I edit the feeling of a footage with the feeling of music.
Artavazd Peleshyan presents his entry into the cinema world in a shot and humorous way. He tells that when he was young and was working at the Automation factory he used to go to the cinema to watch films with his colleagues. The next day they used to discuss the film. “No one liked my ideas and my opinion, as I always had a differed opinion. And my friends were saying “it is alright”, and forgave me. And I decided to become a director so as to end the unnecessary conversations.”