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“The film industry in Armenia has historically been dominated by men, but in the past half-decade, there has been a drastic shift”

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan, Sareen Hairabedian • Directors


The two filmmakers break down what it’s like being women in the Armenian film industry, their latest works and their mission to tell timely war stories

Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan, Sareen Hairabedian  • Directors
Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan (left) and Sareen Hairabedian

Cineuropa caught up with Armenian directors Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan and Sareen Hairabedian. During our chat, we spoke about their experience of being women working in the Armenian film industry, their latest projects and the themes they aim to cover, as well as the importance of telling timely stories from their war-torn land.

Cineuropa: Could you tell us how you first entered the film industry, and touch upon your background and professional experience?
Sareen Hairabedian:
Having grown up in Jordan as part of the Armenian minority, art and storytelling had a particular importance in preserving our identity. After moving to the USA and completing my bachelor’s degree in Film & Media Arts in Washington, DC, in 2016, I founded my production company, HAI Creative. Through it, I produced short, mission-driven documentaries in collaboration with non-profits, news agencies and independent artists. Over time, these storytelling endeavours cultivated new partnerships, culminating in the creation of a 40-minute documentary co-produced with HBO. This project marked my entry point into the independent film industry.

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Nare Leone Ter-Gabrielyan: Upon earning my bachelor’s degree in Journalism, I realised that my passion for storytelling extended beyond the boundaries of factual reporting, and I ventured into the film industry, initially contributing to the production and directing teams. After four years of experience, I started working as a producer and decided to continue my education in cinema, starting my master’s degree as part of a European film programme. During and after my studies, I focused the development of my expertise on international co-productions. After the 2020 Artsakh war, I felt the need to tell stories as a director as well and started working on my debut short.

What about your latest projects and the main themes you aim to tackle?
My Sweet Land is my debut feature-length documentary. It follows the journey of an 11-year-old boy through displacement, war and exile from his homeland, Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh. The themes prevalent in my recent works revolve around the impact of war, particularly on the most vulnerable members of society. Coming from generations of Armenians and Palestinians, these themes have deeply shaped my identity. Therefore, my instinct as a filmmaker is to utilise my craft to narrate stories that not only shed light on the darkness of conflict, but also strive to foster healing and community-building despite the challenges that we face today.

NLT-G: I’m currently in post-production with Silenced [working title], which explores the theme of displacement, unfolding over a single night in the lives of siblings who are stranded on their journey to safety. The story is a tribute to the innocence lost during wars. It follows a teenage girl who has her brother to take care of, although she is a child herself who fails to process the things that have happened to her home. Simultaneously, I am developing Salomé, an art project boasting a complex female anti-hero, and working as a producer on several independent projects at different stages of production.

What are the major obstacles for women working in the Armenian film industry today?
During my time in Armenia, and while living there for a short time while working on my Artsakh film, almost all documentary producers and directors that I collaborated with were women filmmakers; artists who are balancing their independent projects with other works that contribute to pushing the Armenian film industry forward. As the nurturers of society, women carry the tales of a place and its inhabitants, so it’s no surprise that they play an integral part in Armenian cinema.

NLT-G: The film industry in Armenia has historically been dominated by men. However, in the past half-decade, there has been a drastic shift, particularly in creative roles within the industry. Today, a significant number of working producers and directors are young women, and the art department is female-dominated. Yet, I acknowledge that women face more significant hurdles when entering the industry. There seems to be an expectation for them to prove themselves before gaining the same level of trust as their male counterparts. With a strong community of female filmmakers, I believe we are about to witness a positive change in this aspect soon.

What types of improvements would you suggest at both the industry and the institutional levels?
After the war in the 1990s and the subsequent economic crisis, the Armenian film industry has only recently been able to catch its breath. While other industries were able to resume where they left off, we had to rebuild. So of course, there are many things to improve, from distribution to industry mindset to legal and financial procedures. The most important thing for me is education, including establishing a dedicated programme for producers. A system that includes practical classes and case studies with international industry professionals is essential. This will also build a stronger film community.

SH: Armenia’s film industry has made significant strides in the past five to six years, yet there remains considerable room for growth. My suggestions for improvement come from discussions with local Armenian filmmakers who have witnessed the industry’s transformation. Firstly, there is a need for robust institutional strategies that articulate clear, long-term goals for the industry, both domestically and internationally. Such strategies should prioritise enhancing the PR sector to effectively promote Armenian films and their success stories, fostering participation in smaller film markets that align with Armenia’s resources, leading to increased international co-productions, allocating greater funds to support emerging filmmakers in creating new works and debuts, and providing training for filmmakers on navigating the application processes for major funding opportunities, such as Eurimages.

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