How to save Armenfilm
A deplorable condition of the ‘93-year-old’ Armenfilm has brought together young people, who stand with the initiative of the Armenfilm Revival and struggle for the film studio salvation.
“We’ve started with the Internet. While we make one step beyond the network, the Internet allows making 100 steps in the same time. The initiative is gaining momentum, since people from different parts of the world, who are concerned about Armenfilm’s fate, are joining us. I understand the word ‘rebirth’ as follows: a theater institute student should interact with the studio walls, props, pavilions, filmmakers … Armenfilm isn’t just a building, but rather a living organism, where certain processes were underway for decades, says Hayk Babayan, a young filmmaker, an initiator of the Armenfilm Revival.
In 2005, Armenfilm studio was sold to CJSC Armenia Studios for AMD350 million [over US$ 700,000 at the current exchange rate]. This company is part of the CS Media City Holding, owned by Gerard Leon Cafesjian, an American businessman of Armenian descent.
The owner undertook to invest AMD30 billion [over US$ 60 million at today’s exchange rate] within 10 years. However, the filming rooms weren’t eventually built, the film studio didn’t get modern and powerful equipment, the cinematographic heritage wasn’t digitized in the appropriate quality and quantity. For over decade, the owner didn’t invest the pledged AMD30 billion; the studio didn’t produce new films, except for the TV series.
100% shares of CJSC Armenfilm, valued at AMD2 billion 702 million 469 thousand [over US$ 5 million at today’s exchange rate], were returned to the Armenian Government last year and are currently on the state property balance sheet.
Arthur Poghosyan, Deputy Minister of Culture of Armenia, says that in course of Armenfilm privatization process, the government set one more condition before the owner: to digitize the film studio heritage, i.e. over 400 films.
“The owner failed to comply with his commitments to the full extent, and the government revoked the contract. Now we are trying to organize those works ourselves, but they are quite expensive. Films are converted into preferable digital format and we’ll do our best to digitize all films. 18 films were digitized in 2015, said the Deputy Culture Minister.
From Armenfilm’s history
‘Namus’, the first silent feature film, was produced at Armenfilm studio in 1925.
The first Armenian sound film, ‘Pepo’, was produced in 1935.
Animated film production started since 1967. In 1978, Armenfilm acquired new production opportunities. It started producing more movies, that is 6-7 films annually. The film studio received orders from the USSR Central Broadcaster, it produced films jointly with Mosfilm studio. At the end of the 20th century, up to 45 films were dubbed at Armenfilm studio annually.
Today, the government doesn’t have enough funds to implement the studio rehabilitation program. The Culture Ministry officials claim, the investments under certain conditions are required to finance the Armenfilm rehabilitation programs.
Hayk Babayan, an initiator of ‘Armenfilm Revival’ idea, believes that everything shouldn’t be dropped on the government’s lapse-we should understand the problems that the filed is facing and suggest ourselves the ways out of the situation: “When the Premier wakes up, he doesn’t think of the poor condition of the Armenfilm’s walls; it’s necessary to go and see, to do at least something. We ourselves should offer solutions, feeling the government’s support. I met with Armen Amiryan, a newly appointed Culture Minister. He maintains a constructive stance and he is surely concerned not only about the Armenfilm, but also about any other cultural institution in Armenia. I see the Armenfilm’s revival in uniting all those, who realize what formation of cultural values means.’
A volunteer Saturday cleanup, involving young filmmakers, actors and the Armenfilm’s small staff, has been already organized in the studio area as part of the initiative.
Artem Barkudr, one of the filmmakers involved in cleanup activity, believes that although it’s a small step, but it aims at improving the situation:
“We shouldn’t expect that everything will change at once-the problem doesn’t lie within the Armenfilm’s walls. We need to create conditions under which the film industry will develop. We now look with envy at Georgians: they have cinematography; they are involved in various international film festivals; they cooperate and compete with already recognized companies. Whereas we have nothing to present, and that’s despite the fact that much at the Russian market is in Armenians’ hands. Privatization of Armenfilm has literally ‘killed’ the art.
The film studio with almost a century-long history occupies 25-hectare area. There are filming rooms in one part and the film set producing facility, which in due times produced entourage for famous films, is located in another part. The used scenery sets, props and costumes are stored in special premises.
David Karapetyan, Armenfilm’s acting director, noted that the film studio was transferred back to the state with all its assets and land area, and now much more funds are required to maintain it:
“It will be self-delusion to think that we will start mass film production within 4 months. Everything should by planned stage-by-stage. In order to cover the film studio’s minimal expenses, we try to utilize the available cash flows that are formed as a result of lease of our filming rooms and screening of Armenfilm’s produced movies. We have reduced our expenses to zero within 12 months.
As he noted, Armenfilm owns copyright to all films. Under the national copyright regulations, a separate fee is set for the use of each film, which allows the studio to cover the major part of its expences.
With regard to the film studio restoration plans, he pointed out that certain portion of Armenfilm’s shares could be sold, but the controlling stake should remain in the government’s hands.
Hayk Babayan believes, Armenfilm should be nationalized: “It should be conferred the same status as the Matenadaran [a repository of ancient manuscripts], the National Opera and Ballet Theatre. If someone comes from Colombia and says, he’s going to do everything, to invest money, we will no longer believe those fairy tales. An owner is free to do whatever he wants, but Armenfilm is a sacred thing for us, it’s a unique cultural value. Even the dilapidated studio walls and halls are still filled with creative energy. We will continue our campaigns and events aimed at revival of Armenfilm.