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Varoujan Froundjian Talks About Challenges of Filmmaking

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I was born in Beirut, Lebanon from Armenian parents who were extremely religious and who tried to enforce a narrow minded and conservative values in me. Against my parent’s wish, I studied theater and acting and directed and acted in plays ranging from Three Sisters of Anton Chekhov to Henrik Ipsen’s “The Master Builder”.

Like so many young adults growing up in the early sixties, going to the movies was a very exciting and a larger than life experience. From the early years of gladiator movies to Spaghetti Westerns and later intriguing James Bond movies and soon Spielberg’s Jaws and of course The Godfather movies captivated a whole generation of movie audiences. But unlike my friends who enjoyed watching the same movies over and over again, and impersonating the performances of the actors, these movies failed to leave an emotionally bonding impression in me. Soon, I was driven in a constant search for a new type of cinema which would captivate my imagination. Later in my adult life when my aesthetic taste became more mature, I began to enjoy movies made by Fellini, Kurasowa, Ingmar Bergman and many other filmmakers who went beyond the accepted norm of filmmaking replacing suspense, violence and tension with socio-philosophical view of life enriched with symbolism and allegories. Yet, I was still searching to find the kind of cinema which will deeply appeal to my inner makeup and emotional needs.

It might have been a simply an accident or a coincidence that as I was walking on 4th Street in downtown New York, I noticed a sign for film screenings that same evening and I did not waste time and walked into the darkly lit hallways of what later became clear to me that I was at the headquarters of the very famous and epicenter of the experimental film movements of the century, The Millennium Film Workshop. To this day, I am not sure what the exact title and the author of the movie I watched, but a few minutes into the movie I noticed that I was being absorbed into a world where I finally felt at home. Perhaps it was the humming of the 16mm projector, or the flickering and spasmodic rhythm of light, and perhaps it was the moving images of at times inharmonious and cacophonous display of images on the screen where the scenery did not make even the simplest effort to perhaps clarify what was the objective of the movie or it has any particular or a secret message to pass on to the audience. These non-plot, non-narrative, no-characters and no particular story type of movies I watched at the Millennium Film Workshop made me finally feel that I was, yes, at home. That I was with my own tribe and that I was surrounded with filmmakers for whom creating movies meant more than stories about the good guys and the bad guys but through various approaches in editing and collages of at times unrelated images will project the reality of life beyond the norm of a traditional cinema.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

Pulses Of The Pavements, is the fruition and the outcome of the years of soul searching and a struggle to find my artistic voice and personality. This is a non-narrative contemplation of an individual who for health reasons and for mental relaxation walks everyday through the sidewalks and driveways and explores the cracks, fractures and the imperfections of the roads everyday. Somehow, these potholes, and the damaged surfaces of the asphalt, creates images which are nothing but the product of damages caused by ice rain and snow, and constant use of the roads by vehicles. Here the asphalt, water, pebbles and mud are the source of “engravings” of sorts right underneath the steps of the person walking by. Pulses Of The Pavements is only 9 minutes long and the only background sound is the steps of the person walking, which allegorically projects the Pulses pavement.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

Interestingly, my approach in making films does not rely on any specific storyline, a theme or a message to pass onto to the viewer. I begin my film project totally through my own stream of consciousness where a video clip or a photo of a fallen tree, a dead deer laying down on the side of the highway or a brook passing by a wood will suggest or signal a theme or an allegorical view of everyday life. Generally, the main issue my mind is preoccupied with is about the soul of a man or a woman who is somehow detached from reality is seeking an emotional bond with imaginary objects.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Louis Bunūel and Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou was instrumental in shaping my vision of what filmmaking is about, later, as I watched films created by Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren, I had finally imagined a vision of the type of filmmaker and artist I will be when I grow up. But unfortunately it took quite a long time to transform my vision into action. After all, it’s not a secret that experimental filmmaking does not provide financial security nor comfort. But I was fortunate to make a career in desktop publishing which directed me towards several computer graphics software like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Adobe After Effects and Procreate which have become my basic tools to help create my experimental films.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

COVID has enormously influenced our understanding of what our life is about. Suddenly we realized that life is full of uncertainties and regardless of all the technological and medical advances and our genuine efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there are no guarantees to live a long happy life. I will be honest in admitting that the experimental filmmakers did not wholeheartedly react and express their views through these very painful and tragic circumstances created by COVID.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

The centuries old advice is still valid today to the artists in cinema. One has to choose for themselves if they want to be a commercial artist and make a good living, or explore areas in unpredictable and visually unsettling imagery which might not be very welcomed by a large audience. Experimental filmmaking is a state of mind and it is a statement about what we see and how we see it. Instead of commercial movie making which makes every possible effort to comfort and seduce the viewer, experimental filmmaking challenges the viewer and take our of his/her comfort zone.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

No. Nothing will bring change to the world. After centuries of wars and mistreatment of humanity still nothing has changed. Superpowers want to extend their territories to ensure trade and commerce. Look at Ukraine. The only areas the films can make any change is in our own soul and how we view life. Just like poetry, experimental filmmaking gives us the tools to search and rediscover our own human values and this is only a very personal endeavor and has no social mandate.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

Pandemic indirectly had extended our comfort zone and made us believe that it is perfectly fine to isolate ourselves inside our living rooms and forget the troubles of the world. And the networks, whether cable or streamlined, are taking full advantage of the situation other than making the viewer feel good and provide a mental escape they make no effort to educate people and challenge them to think harder. Except, I’ve got to admit, I saw Shakespeare’s Macbeth on Apple TV which was exceptional.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

First, I would like to confess that I cannot hide my astonishment and pleasant surprise at the fact that Pulses Of The Pavements was welcomed by so many film festivals who praised the film’s originality and its artistic execution. I am earnestly humbled and unable to find words to express my gratitude. Special thanks to, Tokyo Short Film Festival for awarding my film. This is such an honor.

The next project that I am interested in is that I have always been fascinated by prehistoric life and early species which developed million years before the animals and humans came to existence. I find this subject of exploring early life with totally not familiar imagery is a challenge that I would like to dedicate my efforts to. Using manipulated images, special filters and sounds is something I am very much interested to dedicate my efforts within the next year or so. And tentatively the title of my film would be, Searching For My Ancestors.

In conclusion, thank you so much ch for providing the excitement opportunity to express myself and I look forward to workin with you soon n the very near future!


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