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David Safarian • Director

“There are people who can maintain their human face in any circumstances”

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- We met up with Armenian filmmaker David Safarian, who won the Best Film and Best Actress Awards at the Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York with Hot Country, Cold Winter

David Safarian  • Director

David Safarian was born in Yerevan (Armenia). In 1983, he graduated from the VGIK, the Moscow Film Institute. He has made a number of documentaries, among them However Odd, but Khokhlova (1986), which in 1987 won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Moscow Film Festival. Hot Country, Cold Winter [+see also:
trailer
interview: David Safarian
film profile
]
 is his second feature film, telling the tale of a man and a woman who are forced to endure near-absurd conditions amidst an energy crisis. The film won the Best Film (split with Cordula Kablitz-Post's Lou Andreas-Salomé: The Audacity to Be Free [+see also:
trailer
interview: Cordula Kablitz-Post
film profile
]
) and Best Actress Awards at the recent Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York.

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Cineuropa: In a few words, what is the film about?
David Safarian:
 The film tells a story about a man and a woman suffering unbearable living conditions as they endure the most difficult time in Armenia. People would discard their humanity in such devastating situations. The film shows the life of a small family in its home town, but at the same time, it is a portrayal of a big part of Armenian newest history that represents the whole nation.

Hot Country, Cold Winter is the second part of a triptych. My first film, Lost Paradise, was more about nature, while the second film focuses on the behavioural aspects of people. The next film will be a fairy tale. The three films will be very different, but the topics are similar: how to stay alive in difficult situations.

What was your motivation for making this film?
The motivation behind this film has a personal side that my wife and I went through, a near-total energy crisis. The town was totally dark and the winter was extremely cold. In these circumstances, a relative visited us from England in the winter of 1992-1993. Once, he said to me: “David, this is amazing, it is unbelievable. If this were to happen in England, people would eat or kill each other. I am here for almost a month; how can you stand it? What are the living standards in this nation?” I thought this was a topic I should choose for my film.

The character in my film says that when living conditions become terribly hard, human beings may start to lose their human face. We experienced and lived with this for years, but we remained human. The motivation was exactly that: there are people who can maintain their human face in any circumstances.

Was it difficult to produce this film?
Yes, it was very difficult, but on the other hand, I should be happy about that. I started writing the film after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when everything was broken. My recognition of the situation changed over the years. I think I needed to take a step back to truly feel and understand the humanity of the people who experienced this period. 

How did you finance the movie?
I received my first instalment of money from the Hubert Bals Fund in Rotterdam in 1993. I started production in 2002, and after three days of shooting, I took a break of three-and-a-half years. Afterwards, I took other rests as well; in total, I had approximately nine years of breaks. I appreciate it all so much – my new actors, my old actors and my crew – because it was not easy for me to hang on to them all this time. The main core of the crew was always available. It is a great gift to have this film done, and it gives me a lot of strength for my next project. 

How do you feel after receiving the prizes at the Socially Relevant Film Festival?
I'm happy about my prize and the one scooped by my actress Yana Drouz. I asked my protagonists to live through that tough period one more time, and it was painful for them. I'm happy that this prize has been handed to me in New York. I’ll never forget the reaction of the audience, how they appreciated the film and reacted to the nuances. This means that the film has universal values: it is not only an Armenian story.

It is great to be given the prize here in New York, in the world’s most significant art centre, where one of my previous films is in the Circulating Film and Video Library of the MoMA. I believe this could play an important role in getting this film there, too.

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