A Brief History of Armenian Cinema in Facts and Figures
Siranush Galstyan, Maria Mirzoyan
Years 1920s – 1980s
- The cinema of Armenia was born on 16 April 1923 when the Armenian State Committee on Cinema was established by Soviet government decree. Predominantly chronicles constitute Armenia’s cinematographic heritage of these years. The first chronicle (now deposited in the Russian State Archive for Film- and Photo Documentation RGAKFD in Moscow) was made early in the 20th century and showed the funeral of Matheoth II Catholicos of All-Armenians, as the French Pathé-Journal No. 93 confirms.
- In 1923 the Armenian film studio, Armenkino, started operating in Yerevan. It was a well-equipped studio with a large shooting pavilion, boasting lighting and sound equipment. The Studio was renamed Armenfilm in 1957.
- The founding fathers of Armenian cinema are Daniel Dznuni and the renowned filmmaker Hamo Beknazarian (also Amo Bek-Nazarov, or Bek-Nazaryan). The latter participated in developing cinematography in several Soviet republics.
- The first full-length documentary film Soviet Armenia (Khorhrdayin Hayastan) was filmed in 1924. About five documentary films on the nation’s life and history are since produced annually, although in the heydays several dozen of such films were made every year.
- The 1920s and 1930s mark the establishment of Armenia’s national film school, also due to the contribution of talented actors, whose excellent stagecraft deeply moved audiences; it still does so today. Usually Armenian literary classics served as the basis for the films of this period.
- The first silent classic, Namus, was made in 1925 by the founding father of Armenian cinema, the prominent filmmaker Hamo Beknazarian. An absolutely new creative manner distinguishes this film from all other pseudo-exotic films about the East of those years. As critics say, for the first time the East was shown unvarnished. On the whole, Beknazarian made 30 films, including documentaries.
- Following Beknazarian, a great contribution to Armenian cinema was made by directors Patvakan Barkhudaryan and Amasi Martirosyan. Among Barkhudaryan’s films are the socio-psychological drama Evil Spirit (Char Vogi, 1927) and the national heroic comedy Kikos (1931). Martirosyan’s best films are the political satire Mexican Diplomats (Meksikakan divanagetnere, co-directed with Levon Kalantar, 1931) and the drama Gikor (Giqore, 1934)—which was the swan song of Armenian silent cinema.
- The year 1935 was the turning point in the history of Armenian cinema, as the first sound film Pepo by Beknazaryan sees the light. The film was made simultaneously in two languages, Armenian and Russian; it received wide public recognition and presented Armenian culture abroad.
- The first animation film The Dog and the Cat (Shunn u katun) by Lev Atamanov (Levon Atamanyan) is released in 1938. Then followed his The Priest and the Goat (Tertern u aytze, 1939) and The Magic Carpet (Kakhardakan gorge, 1948). The production of animation films on a regular basis started in 1967 with Drop of Honey (Mi katil meghre) by Valentin Podpomogov, the father of the revival of Armenian national animation. Robert Sahakyants and many other talented animators were Podpomogov’s students.
- The country between the “hammer and anvil” sees its cinema in decline in the 1940s: these are the years of the so-called film-famine. Despite hardships, in 1943 Beknazaryan created David Bek, a considerable historical film with massive battle scenes.
- In 1944 the Yerevan State Institute of Fine Arts and Theatre opened; in 1999 it was renamed Yerevan State Institute of Theatre and Cinema.
- The Thaw arrived in the mid-1950s, when Armenian cinema saw such talents as Artashes Ay-Artyan, Stepan Kevorkov, Laert Vagharshyan, Yuri Erznkyan, Grigoryi Melik-Avagyan, Henrik Margaryan, and Levon Isahakyan.
- The Studio of Documentary and Television Films “Yerevan” was established in 1959; in the 2000s it stopped operation.
- In the 60s already over 30 cinemas functioned in the country, over 20 in Yerevan. Cinema-going becomes an important part of cultural life in Armenia.
- In 1965 Hello, It’s Me! (Barev, yes em) became a milestone in the history of Armenian cinema. The film participated in the competition of the Cannes Film Festival. The deeply ethnic and at the same time universal human films of Frunze Dovlatyan, Henrik Malyan, Arman Manaryan, and the highly poetic cinema of Sergei Parajanov and Artavazd Peleshyan crown Armenian cinema of the 1960s.
- In the 1970s, along with the above-mentioned creators, emerges a new generation of unique directors, including Dmitri Kesayan, Karen Gevorgyan, Bagrat Hovhannisyan, Edmon Keosayan and others. Suren Hasmikyan’s citation perfectly illustrates this process:
In this decade a stable situation governed the film market and film production expanded. Beginning in 1976, Hayfilm/Armenfilm and the Studio of Documentary Films moved to the Yerevan suburbs into a large, newly-built studio with two pavilions, a modern sound studio, an animation division, a garage, several large warehouses for props and costumes, and a laboratory. The annual number of films released by Hayfilm reaches six to seven films, and all studios together systematically release several dozen films per year. The genre and style of these films is diverse. Internal opposition and ethical resistance to the reality of the failing totalitarian system penetrates the concept of Armenian films. The heroes of Armenian films constantly face choices. The retro style undergoes an original conversion in Armenian films: it no longer portrays the past from the angle of the present, nor does it revive the past in a nostalgic manner, but instead the past is evaluated and often imprinted in the present.
- In the 1980s Armenian cinema becomes competitive and mature thanks to such talents as Albert Mkrtchyan, Aghasi Ayvazyan, Nerses Hovhannesyan, Suren Babayan, Vigen Chaldranyan, and Mikael Dovlatyan.
- Armenian mastery in cinema (cameramen) has played a no less significant role in molding national filmmaking. Here we need to mention Albert Yavuryan, Sergei Israelyan, Suren Shahbazyan, Karen Mesyan, Levon Atoyants, Rudolf Vatinyan, Vrej Petrosyan, Artyom Melkumyan, Vahagn Ter-Hakobyan, Ashot Movsesyan and many others.
- Speaking of achievements in Armenian filmmaking of the period, we need to include also directors of documentary films: Ara Vahuni, Ruben Gevorgyants, Ernest Martirosyan, Marat Varjapetyan, Mikael Vartanov, and Harutyun Khachatryan.
- The modern Republic of Armenia became independent in 1991.
- When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Armenian film industry and particularly Armenfilm studio faced hard times and struggled to survive.
- With numerous problems of the transition period, such as ruined economy and infrastructure, lack of finances, immigration of the population, the number of cinemas in Yerevan dropped from over twenty to two working at full capacity. Though, unlike in other new independent states in the region, the 1990s in Armenia brought forth many good films and a new generation of talented filmmakers.
- The mature generation of filmmakers of the 90s is represented by Arnold Aghababyan, Arman Manaryan, Dmitri Kesayan, Albert Mkrtchyan, Ruben Gevorgyan, Harutyun Khachatryan, Vigen Chaldranyan, Suren Babayan. The young generation is represented by Edgar Baghdasaryan, Tigran Xmalyan, Arsen Azatyan, and Narine Mkrtchyan.
- During the transition period the following were produced: 32 feature films, over 30 documentaries (both medium-length and shorts), and 30 short animation films.
- The National Cinema Centre had not yet been established; therefore state support to film production was implemented on a non-competitive basis. All finances went solely to the state studios.
The 2000s and 2010s
- In 2000 the Academy of Television and Radio is established in Armenia.
- The Ministry of Culture works out a system of circulating state support on a competitive basis.
- In 2004 Armenia becomes a signatory to the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production (comes into force in 2005)
- In 2004 the Yerevan International Film Festival “Golden Apricot” and the International Women Film Festival “KIN” are established.
- In 2006 the National Cinema Centre of Armenia (NCCA) is established.
- The number of small private production companies grows. Private production companies and TV companies start investing into film production.
- Filmmaking develops in all directions, including debuts, animation films, documentary and full-length features and shorts. (The criteria for state support and information on the Council on Cinema Issues is provided below)
- In 2008 the negotiations with Eurimages were initiated.
- In 2008 Armenia signs the agreement on co-operation in culture and filmmaking with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
- In 2009 “ReAnimania” International Animation Films Festival is established; it is a unique animation event in the region and beyond.
- In 2011 the National Cinema Academy of Armenia is established.
- The turning point in audiovisual industry starts in 2012, when the “Star” Multiplex and other new cinemas come into operation.
- In 2012 the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors are opened at the State Institute of Cinema and Theatre by “Hay Art Cinema”, under the auspices of the renowned director Roman Balayan. The coaches are prominent filmmakers from Armenia, Russia, Europe, and the USA.
- Armenia participates in top audiovisual events worldwide, including the film market in Cannes.
- In 2012 Armenia becomes the 40th member of the European Audiovisual Observatory. The 2013 Yearbook (Issue 19) presented an extensive review of the Armenian audiovisual market, information on the Law on TV and Radio, and on the technical equipment and audience shares.
- In 2012, with assistance from the Ministry of Culture, “Orange Armenia” Company, and “Hayak” National Film Development Foundation, the National Film Award “Hayak” is established.
- On 16 March 2012, the National Cinema Centre of Armenia and the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée (CNC) sign a Convention on Co-operation in the cinema sector.
- A new generation of world-class filmmakers and producers emerges in Armenia: for documentary, Vardan Hovhannisyan, Inna Sahakyan, Artak and David Avdalyan, Gor Bagdasaryan, Mariam Ohanyan, Gurgen Janibekyan, Levon Kalantar; for feature films, Hovhannes Galstyan, Mariya Saakyan [Sahakyan], Ruben Kochar, Nika Shek, Aram Shahbazyan, Armine Anda, Mikael Vatinyan; for short films, Oksana Mirzoyan, Diana Kardumyan, Hrant Vardanyan, Jivan Avetisyan; and for animation films, David, Nana and Hayk Sahakyants, Vrej Kassouny. Some of the directors work in several genres.
- Three to five films are produced annually in international cooperation, though without official status of co-production
- The production records for the period are: 40 full length features, over 60 shorts, 23 full-length documentaries, over 100 shorts and two full-length and over twenty short animation films.
STRUCTURE AND FUNDING
The Armenian audiovisual industry currently consists of the National Cinema Centre of Armenia (NCCA), the State Studio of Chronicle-Documentary Films “Hayk” (“Hayk” Documentary Film Studio), the “Robert Sahakyants Production” NGO animation studio, plus over twenty independent production companies, as well as public and private TV companies.
STATE BUDGET AND AUDIOVISUAL SECTOR
State budget distribution: The total state budget for 2013 made up 1.2 million Armenian drams (AMD), or approximately 2.2 million Euros [exchange rate 1 Euro = 550 AMD). The state allocated 18.5 million AMD (33.5 million Euros) to the sector of “Leisure, Culture and Religion”, which is 1.5 percent of the total state budget.
Budget of Ministry of Culture for Cinema. The budget of the Ministry of Culture of RA for the “Cinema” sector made up 772 million AMD (1.3 million Euros), which is 0.06 percent of the total state budget for 2013. Of that, about half went to the film production—excluding wages, travel, office-running and other expenditures. This amount was distributed between the three major audiovisual industry players: National Cinema Centre; “Hayk” Documentary Film Studio; and Robert Sahakyants Production NGO. (In 2013, Robert Sahakyants Production was no longer under NCCA and received state funding directly; this means that the Ministry of Culture has acknowledged the animation studio and the animation sector on the whole as a fully-fledged player in the industry of audio-visual production.)
THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE
The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, based on the Law on Fundamentals of Cultural Legislation (ratified in 2002) supports regularly different film-related activities, including participation of Armenian filmmakers in international film festivals and markets, national and international film festivals locally, and other. Additional sponsorship is envisaged for projects of national importance and jubilees.
Budget distribution in the audiovisual sector
The diagram below shows a breakdown of the distribution of the state budget for film production in per cent.
- The National Cinema Centre receives approximately 354 million AMD (650,000 Euros), which is 78 percent of the total. The majority of its funding is for feature films, although the NCCA also supports other areas, including animation.
- The “Hayk” Documentary Film Studio receives approximately 50 million AMD (90,000 Euros), which is 11 percent of the total.
- Robert Sahakyants Production receives approximately 51 million AMD (93,000 Euros), which is 11 percent of the total.
Documentary, HCDS: “Hayk” Chronicle-Documentary Film Studio; Animation, RSAS: Robert Sahakyants Production; Feature, NCCA: National Cinema Centre of Armenia
Besides, the Ministry of Culture supports the “Festival” sector, i.e. attendance of international festivals and the conduct of national and international festivals locally. In 2013 the budget for this segment made up 87 million AMD (158,000 Euros). These funds were distributed as follows: provision of participation in international festivals and film markets; “Golden Apricot” IFF; “KIN” Women IFF; “ReAnimania” Animation IFF of Yerevan; “Nofi” Non-Commercial IFF; and he national event “CinemaAutumn”. In order to qualify for state subsidy, films should meet the following criteria: (a) they should be full-length feature films and film projects with a public-civil, creative and cultural value; (b) they should raise issues of national and universal human importance, etc.; (c) films and film projects for youth and children should be entertaining, educating, with national importance.
And talent-spotting and promotion of young filmmakers plays a special role.
Siranush Galstyan, Maria Mirzoyan © 2016