Ovsanna Gevorgyan’s Tale Of The Anguished Gardener (Ask Tsavagar Aygepani Masin) will screen at the Raindance Film Festival as part of the Relative States shorts programme.
The short film tells the story of 20-year-old Maria (played by Tamara Sevunts) as she seeks refuge in her grandfather’s house in the Armenian mountains. First deeply depressed, Maria finds harmony and a sense of purpose in closeness with nature and the people.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Gevorgyan to learn more about Tale Of The Anguished Gardener and her background as a filmmaker.
Q: What does it mean to you for ‘Tale Of The Anguished Gardener’ to screen at the Raindance Film Festival?
A: Having Tale Of The Anguished Gardener screen at Raindance Film Festival is truly an honour. It has been a great platform for many up and coming artist to start their careers. I’m especially excited because it’s the first time the film is showing for an international audience.
Q: What can UK audiences expect from the story and the journey Maria goes on?
A: My stories always have a light at the end of the tunnel; I do not believe in holding up a mirror to the world to show its ugliness. I believe in the film as a hypnotic journey at the end of which one feels spiritual elevation, a moment of illumination when one reconnects with the God within themselves.
In my experience, that exhilarating moment filled me with such a rush, so much love for people and such a great desire to do good. That is the reason why I try to make films that would touch people in the same way. I know it sounds very pretentions, but it is the way I feel.
In a nutshell, what they can expect is to see a human being in deep suffering who finds some sort of refuge. But that happens only when she chooses love over hate, when she embraces her pain and decides to turn it into beauty and kindness.
Q: What is the significance of the mythological figure of Medea? How important is mythology to Armenia culture?
A: Armenians certainly share the same fatalism and obedience against greater powers that were so dominant in ancient Greek mentality. Armenians live in a non-existent world of the past glory. Mythology is important to us, but not in the sense known to the western world. Armenian myths are built on unique perceptions, and in that sense, they are a great part of our culture.
But what is more important is the reality that pushes Armenians to seek refuge in the nonexistent past and feel a deep emotional attachment to it. That is certainly a very Armenian characteristic: exist in the present, live in the past and feel nostalgia for the future, since it is inevitably going to become past. We mourn for life passing, and while we mourn, life indeed passes by us, and it doesn’t touch us.
In my personal experience, myths were always important. The first book I read as a child was the Legends And Myths Of Ancient Greece. Since then, my love for ancient literature only grew.
But the figure of Medea always stood out as a deeply misunderstood character. For me, she was the most loving mother, a heartbroken woman who only wanted to shelter her children from suffering they’d have to endure under the leadership of the new house. She perfectly fit into the distorted perception of nature that Maria had. Maria perceived nature as a cruel mother, who slaughters her own children without remorse, just like Medea was perceived by people.
Q: From the stills and the trailer I’ve seen, there are a number of striking images in the short film. I was particularly taken by the images that seem to show Maria merging with nature. What was your approach to the visual of this short? What atmosphere did you want to create?
A: Thank you! Our talented production designer, Ani Petrosyan, certainly put a lot of work into bringing that shot to life. Initially, the film was written to be part of the Columbia University curricular requirement. Columbia is a great screenwriting program that teaches you a very strict 3-act structure, and my vision was very hard to bend into that shape.
This film is only a fraction of the world I had in mind. I feel like I held back and tried to make a more “human” and grounded film. But enough about what I couldn’t do: what I did do was aimed at creating a visual punch in the heart.
I wanted to create the visual manifestation of Maria’s gut-wrenching pain and the delirious dream-state in which it puts her. I wanted to translate emotion into an image. I guess that is what we all are trying to do.
Q: I imagine putting together these visuals presented some unique challenges. Was that the most difficult part of this project?
A: Believe it or not, visuals were not the hardest part of the production: in general, I have a very clear idea of what I want to see. Also, I had a very experienced and supportive cinematographer on the project, which, of course, helped a lot.
The most challenging part was actually financial. The finances fell apart several times; I had to invest all of my savings and part of my tuition to make this film and inevitably starve for about six months. But when you put things in perspective, starving is a minor sacrifice; I made a film, that’s the only thing that mattered. I had to do the same for my first film, and the last one too: maybe if I starve enough, I will finally get to shoot my first feature, who knows.
On a more serious note, it is always challenging to establish power dynamics when you are a young director, especially female. Winning over your crew, convincing them that you know what you are doing, earning their trust – these are all valid challenges.
But all of this, the cold, the long hours, the technical difficulties don’t really bother me. I welcome challenges; they make it exciting.
Q: You have worked with Tamara Sevunts before on ‘A Cloud In Trousers’ and ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ What do you enjoy about your collaborations with Tamara?
A: Working with the same people, you develop an understanding, a shorthand of sorts. There is less explaining involved, and in a hectic environment such as film sets, it is essential. It saves time, and on a film set, time is money.
I like to work with the same people because you can save all of that time and brain cells that you sacrifice when people are trying to convince you that they can direct your film better than you. People who have worked with me know that I know what I want.
Q: You are currently based out of New York. Why is it important to you to make films that are set in Armenia?
A: It is not really a decision: the story dictates where it is set. Although, people are all the same everywhere. And if you know the culture of your hero, you can write a film just about anybody.
How we express ourselves, which is the culture part, might be different, but we all feel the same feelings. My latest short is about a Soviet Russian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, who lived in the 1st half of the 20th century. I couldn’t have directed that film if Armenia was not influenced by Russian culture for decades. I lived in that culture, which is why I felt comfortable telling that story.
Q: You’ve been involved in 26 short film projects over the past three years. What have you taken away from this intensive period of filmmaking?
A: The most important lessons I have taken away: always trust your gut, stick to your role in the production, and be professional(but not a pain in the neck).
I guess the first one doesn’t need much explaining. Since only you know the film you are directing, don’t let anyone throw you off with their ideas. Their ideas might be brilliant, but if they do not belong with your story, you can’t take them.
Stick to your role: if your job is to make coffee on the set, don’t walk around fixing the cables, or giving notes to the actors, just make the best possible coffee you can make, and you’ll have everybody’s love and respect.
Film set has to be fun. You can not work in a tense environment; it affects the film negatively. Film is like an energy sponge: it reflects the energy that was put into the making of it.
Q: Where does your passion for filmmaking and storytelling come from?
A: My passion for filmmaking comes from my love for poetry. I started to write poetry since I was about 10 and never stopped since. I was convinced that I was going to become a writer. But when I was 15, my sister, a theater director, got me involved in the world of theater. It was a mind-blowing experience.
Theater still holds a special place in my heart, and in my latest short, A Cloud In Trousers, you could see it very clearly. But when the time came for me to choose what I wanted to do, I sat down and thought about everything very carefully. I came to the conclusion that only film could give me all the tools that I needed to exploit the concepts that I had in mind fully. It combines every art form and gives you infinite freedom to explore.
Q: What is next for you? Any ambitions or plans to share with us?
A: Well, firstly I have to finish my last short; it’s now in post-production. And of course, I have to get my first feature off the ground. The title, My Heart Is Like Those Ruined Houses, is a line from an Armenian folk song and the script itself is built around Armenian folk songs and poetry.
The film follows an 8-year old girl who has a mystical illness called God’s pain. Before the sickness kills her, she decided to find God and ask him to cure her.
We already have an Armenian production attached to the film and are currently looking for a European partner to co-produce the film.
You can see ‘Tale Of The Anguished Gardener’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London (22 and 24 September). For ticket info