I heard about 58-year-old filmmaker Artur Aristakisyan, who has shot only two films and has idled himself in cinema for already 18 years, for the first time when I received an offer to interview her. This fact didn’t come as a surprise to him at all.  

– Cinema has its own geography, which has no boundaries. And the geography of auteur films is special. Every city has a certain number of people who watch auteur films. Be it in Brazil, Turkey or in a remote part of Russia, they all are residents of the same country – the auteur cinema.

Artur Aristakisyan has spent at least six years making each of his films. He has won over a dozen international film awards for the films “Palms” (1993) and “A Place in the World” (2001), has secured his permanent place in the film industry and is not interested in increasing the number of his fans.

– All in all, I don’t need anyone, but if we talk about audiences, my still small audience comprises those people who aren’t fans of entertaining art. Whether it is in Seoul or Chernihiv, Moscow or Yucatan, they all are part of the same film club as two rooms of a house. The shooting process of my two films was painful and extremely torturous for me, like a lasting illness. The first film took six years to shoot, so did the second one… It’s hard for me to talk about my films. It was a stream of consciousness, when I was shooting, speaking and recording my own voice, I wasn’t rationalizing it all. It’s a very difficult thing to do. That flow is not much of a connected speech… A speech of a philosopher or a normal person, who feels sick, who speaks, with his words bursting out of him when he looks at the camera. Speaking about your own films is so emotional, sensual and personal, as if it’s cutting off from your body parts.

In the last year of study at the Faculty of Documentary Films of the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography in 1993, Aristakisyan rose to prominence for “Palms”, a film telling about homeless people in Chisinau. It is a result of video recording the life of the homeless in person for five years in a row and sharing impressions in simultaneous speeches. “A Place in the World’, a film reflecting on a hippie commune in Moscow that was shot eight years later in 2001 was followed by 18 years of the director’s silence in cinema.

– The painful and heart-wrenching state of making the two films led to some kind of relaxation only in the absence of cinema, but not creative activity. I engaged myself in literature, I was busy studying and teaching cinematography. I don’t consider myself a lecturer, it’s simply a job to earn my living. No, I don’t teach, I don’t educate, I just tell… What I present canned be called a lecture, since the latter implies science. It’s more a vison, a worldview. I simply share what I think about, what I see and feel, what I reveal to myself. And the listeners are those who take an interest in them.

Whereas, among those interested in Artur Aristakisyan’s films are prominent French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard and Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas. The Internet betrays it, while Aristakisyan complements.

I am going to return to cinema. I want to resume a filmmaker’s career, but I only want nether shootings nor experiences to be as much distressing … A director’s profession doesn’t necessarily entail such a painful attitude. Now the feelings and emotions are totally different, previously I didn’t think the way I do now. Man doesn’t live only one life; I don’t live once either. Those personalities or individuals who have shot my first and second films are different from each other. Both individuals have died. They are not me anymore. I am a different person now. I can’t imagine whether I would say, do or shoot the same thing now. Each director is considered a co-author of his film at some extent. It’s spirits that make films. What passed through me was the one that created my films.

My movies reflect problems and troubling situations, which, in spite of having received numerous awards and leading the top ten Russia-based directors ranked by the West, continuously receive extremely opposite assessments by audience and professional circles and are not at all intended to offer solutions or answers. 

– For me, like for everyone else, social issues are important, but I don’t deal with them. It simply serves as material for me to convey a certain worldview, which, I am not even sure, is or isn’t related to the resolution of a problem. This is an art form that doesn’t deal with people’s life… The life of the human spirit and the human being himself are somewhat different.

What is intolerable in life is good in and for art. Prostitutes, beggars and the poor form the palace of art, while in real life you want to stay far away from that all. Thus, for me a social issue is a piece of material through which I try to create my own vision that has nothing to do with it.   

I am not going to offer answers to some life-addressed questions though an artwork. Life is a completely different thing; it has nothing to do with art. Another question is why we need art. This makes a different conversation. Man is created in a way that he needs art – high art. It’s necessary for human imagination. Art also needs feelings in a unique way but is insensitive in the meantime. Art doesn’t strive to ease people’s life.

Aristakisyan’s plans for a comeback in cinema took shape earlier, first through a documentary film project about an Indian girl with two faces on one head, which wasn’t realized, and second through a film about slave trade to be shot in Mexico. However, the latter is on its way to be brought to life.          

– Cinema is about a vision, not a plot. It is easy to put a vision into words, and when it comes to the story, content and material, they relate to the slave trade in my third film which is set in Mexico, namely in Acapulco. There is a proposal to be a producer of that film from Carlos Reygadas. We are set to meet him in Yerevan at the invitation of the Golden Apricot Film Festival organizers. It’s not yet clear when and how the filmmaking process will start or complete, but the exact date of the festival is clear: it’s set for 8-12 July. The organizers have planned one or two meetings, but I am open to more meetings if necessary.

In fact, this marks Aristakisyan’s first visit to Armenia. Previously, he visited the country as a child. He’s far away from the principle of measuring the world, let alone the culture, through homeland or nationality.

– My ancestors were from Romania. The Armenian community has long been established there. My father’s family settled there in the wake of the Armenian Genocide. Later, my father ended up in Chisinau, far away from an Armenian neighborhood. Neither he nor I speak Armenian. I don’t have a sense of national identity or homeland. They are very conventional matters. After all, homeland and nationality are just phenomena that the mankind should have named. What can I do? The most important thing for me is the creation, the creative activity without which I am not me.

Meanwhile, Artur Aristakisyan’s work – still only two films – have united the world, according to many. The same is expected from his next film, the interest in which will bring together two Mexico-based and Russia-based filmmakers, Artur Aristakisyan and Carlos Reygadas, on the sidelines of the Armenian film festival.

P.S. Aristakisyan’s “A Place in the World” was screed at the “Golden Apricot” in 2004 and picked up the Special Jury Award.

Interview by Nana Petrosyan