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A COUNTRY torn apart by war is a place of horror and despair, but for one young film-maker his childhood has proved inspirational.
Armenian born Gor Baghdassaryan is set to have one of four short films he has made shown at this week's MFA Planet Europe Short Film Festival in Palma. And he is only 15! The End of the Line, a film in a style he calls “in the middle of documentary and fiction”, will be shown at the first ever festival of its kind, to open in Palma tomorrow night. His films reflect the ordinary lives of people in Yerevan, Armenia's capital, where he was born, and look at how war and natural disasters have affected his nation. “When I was growing up, I thought my life was normal, but after watching the television and looking around I realised there was something wrong.” His aim, to capture the experiences of people around him, sometimes using real people to act and sometimes actors to play real people. This style is what he describes as not quite documentary and not quite fiction. Armenia, under Soviet occupation until the end of the 1980*s, was a difficult place to grow up and had no facilities for young people interested in film. This was until 1995, however, when Manana, a Youth Cultural Education Centre, was set up in Yerevan. Gor, only eight when he joined, was there when the centre was in its infancy, so has seen it grow and is now one of the more experienced members. Lusine Babayan, one of the helpers there, said, “It is for kids between six and 18. They can learn film-making as well as journalism, photo-journalism and painting.” “It is a unique way of making films. There is no theory, just practical is taught. Somebody has an idea and we all try to find a way of making it work.” This, of course, allows the imagination of the children to run wild, with Gor as the perfect example. He currently has four films to his name, one of which is to be entered in the Short Film Festival this week. All are no more than a minute long, succintly illustrating the political point Gor wants to make. One film, Farewell to Arms, shows children between five and seven years old in a ruined house playing with toy guns. Gor said, “They realise the guns are bad and throw them in the fire.” Memory about the Tree, the inspiration for which came from an iron statue called Monument to a Tree in Yerevan, is a particularly evocative piece of cinematography. As Gor explains, “A girl is drawing a tree and when the camera pans up all you can see is an iron tree. All the world is iron and she is drawing from her imagination.” “This is what I mean by documentary and fiction, because this could happen, but it is only my prediction.” None of the actors and actresses in the films are professionals and most come from the Centre, which has facilities that meant he could get his ideas shot. The End of the Line, the nominated film for this week's Palma Film Festival, was the only actual documentary short film out of the four. Shot last year in his home town, it shows a family living in a train carriage, in appalling conditions. Gor said, “In the city where I live people have houses, but in the villages, there are no houses, so people have to live like this.” He admires directors like Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski and Andre Tarkovski, and says of Spielberg that “there are very few directors that can make blockbusters that are good.” Although he looks up to these people, he is keen not to simply imitate their style and the work they have produced. “At the Centre, in Yerevan, we talk about a director, but do not copy him. Everyone must do their own style, and must not make something to be like someone else.” As a result he makes films that are original and honest about his life because, as he explains, “You have to do something only you can do. Something you can do best.” “Spielberg can do blockbusters, but I can tell my story. Money isn't the most important thing, cinematography is.” The Centre allows for the kids to formulate their ideas and bounce them off other students as well as the instructors. As Babayan explains, “it is more of a union. The children are not taught but are encouraged and advised.” With grounding in film-making Gor said he now wants to go to university. However, The University of Armenia is ”not good” he says, as all the professionals in film studies were killed during the Soviet Occupation. He says this as though it were matter of fact; an everyday occurence. This is reflected in the stories he tells. The MFA Planet Europe Short Film Festival opens tomorrow night, with films being shown at the Renoir and Sa Nostra's cultural centre.