82-yaer-old cinematographer Laert Poghosyan is one of the founders of the Armenian television. He has graduated from the Faculty of Biology of YSU, but has worked in his profession only for one year. His parents were artists. His brother is the famous architect Hrachya Poghosyan. In 1958 he started to work at the newly opened television studio of Armenia as a cinematographer. He has shot more than 100 documentary and feature films. He has lived in the United States for many years. “I left Armenia not because this isn’t a place to live, as many people say. I just was to be with my daughter and help her. The major part of my relatives are living here. Every year I visit Armenia and have a rest at our own house located in Solak,” says the honored artist.
The interview with Laert Poghosyan was conducted at the building of the Public Radio of Armenia, where “Radiolur” news agency is operating currently.
“It was a few decades ago that I climbed these stairs for the last time. I had happy and sad feelings at the same time. I remembered all those people who were the founders of the Armenian television, the majority of them are not with us now. The television studio was founded in 1956 but the main activities began from 1957-1958. After working in this building for 15 years we moved to Nork. In 1962 the tours of State Dance Ensemble of Armenia took place in Czechoslovakia, where I shot the film “Czechoslovakia is applauding” that made me famous in one day.”
“You have shot almost all the films of Artavazd Peleshyan. How did that cooperation begin?”
“Artavazd, who had graduated from the Institute of Cinematography of Moscow and was already famous for his diploma work, got an invitation from “Yerevan” film studio to direct the film “We” with his own script. Film director Albert Mkrtchyan guaranteed and offered my candidacy as an operator. Our first encounter took place at my house 45 years ago, but I clearly remember our conversation. Arthur (everyone called him so) was telling how he wanted his film to be, he was telling it in a simple Tumanyan language, in Lori dialect. Thus our cooperation began, and it turned into friendship in a short time.
Artavazd Peleshyan is both an interesting and a complex person, sometimes even strange. All the films shot by him are masterpieces of world cinema. I am not afraid to claim it, as many famous artists of world cinema have expressed such an idea about him. Sergei Parajanov has called him “an exceptional geniuses”. Later I shot the films “Our Age”, “The Seasons of the Year” and “The Inhabitants” with Peleshyan.
The film “We” didn’t appear on the screens for more than a year. After watching the film one of the superiors had a private meeting with Peleshyan and I attended it as well. “Arthur, in general I liked the film. But I have a question: What is it about?” And Arthur answered with simplicity typical to him: “I don’t know what it is about. It is about whatever each person understands after watching it, and if he gets nothing it means it is about nothing.” And the dialogue was over.
To my delight, in Brussels Pelshyan’s film “The Seasons of the Year” has been considered one of the 10 best documentary films of all times. Peleshyan was unique both in his films and in real life. He had an interesting sense of humor. The shootings of the film “Seasons of the Year” were over but the installation works were delayed. He asked me to go with him to see the director as he had an important request. And the director of the Committee of Radio and Television was Stepan Poghosyan, with whom I had studied at Yerevan State University. The director accepted us and offered to sit down.
“What is up, Arthur? How is all going?” he asked to Arthur. In response to the director’s question, Arthur handed him the latter previously written by him. After reading it, Stephan asked me if I had read the letter. He barely restrained his anger. I said that I wasn’t aware of its content. “In that case take it and read aloud,” he told me. The letter read the following “Taking into consideration the fact that I haven’t managed to finish the installation works of the film for a long time as there is a wicked eye on my film, I ask you to give me a written reprimand and stick it to the wall, so as the eye eliminates.” The director couldn’t control himself anymore, hit the table with his hands and cried: “Listen, do I look like the mullah of Meymandar to you?”
After calming down a little bit Stepan Karpich, who appreciated Peleshyan’s talent and maybe also liked his sense of humor, asked him whose eye it was. Arthur said that it referred to a “codla”. And in response to the question what the word “codla” meant, he said the following: “How to explain to you, Stephan Karpich, it is when a number of people get together to do a bad thing.”
I was not shooting a film, I was experiencing the pain and suffering of our people. I was trying to use all the operating tricks to reproduce correctly all the ideas proposed by scriptwriter Mushegh Galshoyan and director Zhirayr Avetisyan. Due to the excellent work carried out by Sos Sargsyan Miro’s character, as a collective description of our nation, became the symbol of finding the strength to stand up again after being broken. There is a scene in the film “Miro of the Valley” that was not included in the film for some reasons. In the scene Miro is sitting in his dark and gloomy hut where a candle light is burning. The monotonous strikes of the wall clock what gradually become louder exasperate him. He is throwing an object at hand towards the wall and screaming “You, bastard…Are you counting the hours of my life?”
Laert Poghosyan’s memories on the film about Spitak are also touching.
In 1988 I shot a documentary film about Spitak with the suggestion of my friend, film critic and journalist Robert Matosyan. We carried out the last shootings four or five days before the quake and returned Yerevan. We were again in Spitak the next day of the disaster. All the buildings, the schools and the gardens that we had shot a few days ago were destroyed now. A scene in the film shows how a woman takes her children to kindergarten. I don’t know why I asked the children to say goodbye to their mother with their hands and the mother answered them. Then I shot that scene. That two children were left under the ruins. With tearful eyes I was filming the kindergarten, the destroyed merry-go-round and the pool, and the children’s laughter was still sounding in my ears. And now it was all screaming and crying: An unbearable scene. The film was entitled “Spitak: the Pity and Pain of the world”. The film ends with the famous song “Wake up, my Son”, and the flower bud is slowly rising from the soil…”
During the Soviet period the Armenian cinema was extremely successful. What can you say about the films made during the independent years? Have they managed to preserve the best traditions of the Armenian cinema?
Maybe I am more pessimistic in these issues. Many things have vanished during these years. The independence has been an intention and desire for all the Armenians for many centuries. But today we have what we have. Today’s filmmakers are very proudly presenting claiming that they have won three awards here and four ones there. Now films are mainly shot for the sake of awards. And it is not important whether people will like it or not. My dear colleagues, a Film is not evaluated by film festivals, but by people.
There is another painful problem. The birthdays of outstanding people come and go: Arno Babajanyan, Hovhannes Tumanyan…There are wonderful films shot about them, but it occurs to no one to show them. It is hard to say whether the responsible people are aware of that films or not. Years ago with the initiative of the film director Kim Arzumanyan we shot a film. It was composed of the parts of the best performances played at mother theatre by the best actors. If some pieces of the stage characters of Avet Avetisyan, Hrachya Nersisyan have been preserved, it is only due to that film. But the destiny of that film is unknown to me now.
I have shot two film dedicated to Hrachya Nersisyan: the first one with Hovik Hakhverdyan and the second one with Marat Varjapetyan. I took the photo of the master at his house a few months before his death. That photos are still published in various magazines and newspapers: with the cigarette in his hands, with sorrowful eye expression. Believe me, I haven’t seen such deep eyes and such a wrinkled but a beautiful face anymore…