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Jivan Avetisyan • Director of Gate to Heaven

“I’m still searching for ways to explain to my nine-year old son what happened and why”


- Armenia’s Jivan Avetisyan tells us about his latest feature, its exclusion from Moscow Film Festival and his new projects

Jivan Avetisyan • Director of Gate to Heaven

Cineuropa spoke to Jivan Avetisyan, director of Gate to Heaven [+see also:
film review
interview: Jivan Avetisyan
film profile
. Our conversation focused on the making of his latest feature, its recent exclusion from the Moscow Film Festival and his new endeavours.

Cineuropa: Where are you now? How are you?
Jivan Avetisyan: I arrived in Yerevan from Artsakh on 8 November after the most horrendous time of my life. I hope that many are aware of what happened, the clashes that erupted in the middle of July and then again escalated into a full-blown war on 27 September, where Turkish-backed Syrian fighters joined Azerbaijani forces against the Armenians. During these cruel times, my family fled to Yerevan as we lost our home in Shushi. My family members are in Yerevan and have now recovered from coronavirus but still struggle from the psychological effects of the war. I am personally struggling with the reality that has now been forced upon me. I am still searching for ways to explain to my nine-year old son what happened and why, just like my father struggled back in the 1990s when I witnessed the same conflict.

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I spent all of my time in Artsakh documenting these tragedies, along with Norayr Hovsepyan and Hrayr Avetisyan from Artsakh Public Television. As a team, we traveled to numerous parts of the war zone including the frontlines. We were able to film the towns and villages that were shelled, where many civilians had lost their homes and their loved ones. We also witnessed countless corpses which were left unattended, soldiers who had been killed while protecting our culture, history and homeland. All the scenes have now been stamped in my memory forever and the pain is impossible to describe.

What I’ve documented will be included in my next feature, so I will slightly change the script and might include a personal story. I collected the seeds of all the fruits I ate while the clashes continued in order to create a Garden of Peace. Now the question is: who will plant the Garden of Peace first — Murat, the main character of my project, or myself?  Meanwhile, I’ve also learnt of yet another friend who may have been killed in this war, namely the lead actor of Tevanik. I cannot tell how devastating it is for me to have made a film to showcase the dehumanising realities of war and later lose the hero of my story. To date, his body has not been found and the family is still desperately searching for him.

How did you react to the exclusion of your film from Moscow?
Two months ago, I was the happiest filmmaker. My film was set to have its international premiere in Moscow. However, just a few hours after the war began, we received an official letter by Razlogov mentioning that the screening had been cancelled and our work had to be removed from their official programme owing to the political pressures made by Azerbaijani government officials. Our team, confused and disappointed, asked Razlogov to reconsider his decision.

We replied that prestigious festivals such as Moscow’s are designed to give independent filmmakers a platform to showcase their talent. Our film in no way promotes hate or propaganda against Azerbaijan. In fact, it promotes peace. We received a follow-up letter confirming their decision. Razlogov mentioned that if the festival happens in April 2021, they would consider screening the film then. Of course, this decision was extremely disappointing and was not taken lightly. I had high hopes of walking down the red carpet but, instead, I spent 38 days of my life experiencing the worst war crimes. My quest is to continue to tell these stories and promote peace through the art of filmmaking. I am thankful for the overwhelming support we received from numerous well-known critics (especially from Russia), filmmakers, as well as from the Golden Apricot International Film Festival and the National Cinema Center of Armenia.

When did you start working on Gate to Heaven?
My creative director Narine Voskanyan and I began to discuss the plot while completing The Last Inhabitant in 2016. Our vision was to work on a powerful script and gain added production value through a wider international co-production, which we did achieve. My colleagues Kestutis Drazdauskas and Adrineh Mirzayan were instrumental in getting the project off the ground. We held the Armenian premiere in October 2019. However, COVID-19 and the war made distribution difficult. Our sales agent, MPM Premium, has received leads across the globe, including the USA. A few weeks ago, the film was also screened at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival within the “Dedication to Artsakh” strand.

Are you cooking up any new projects?
Of course. I’m currently developing two projects. Revival gained international interest by the selection committee of Berlinale Talents and also won a Roy W. Dean Grant in the Hot Films category. The organisation will host our film on their website for a year and help us to raise funds. The other project is entitled Black List and has been inspired by the life of Alexander Laphin, a popular Russian-Israeli travel blogger. We are well into our first draft of the script, penned by a prominent Hollywood screenwriter.

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