To the source of the light: Taniel travels around the Globe

Jean Vartan (Ekmekjian) of Hayreniqi Dzayn (Հայրենիքի Ձայն), Pan Armenian Writers’ Unions’ official newspaper, visited our screening at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. Read the Armenian version in the latest issue of Hayreniqi Dzayn

Director Garo Berberian’s short film “Taniel” is no ordinary film, and does not fit any conventional definitions, using dark, elegant Film Noir images and a poet’s tragic personal story – voiced through his poems. The narrative is mostly heard through poetry, with Varoujan poems in Armenian expressing the emotions in each of the scenes; and narrative poetry in English delivered with an emotive depth of feeling by Sean Bean.

Taniel Varoujan was one of the brightest minds and visionaries of his time, a magnificent poet, a respected teacher and public speaker, a loved father and husband – who was arrested and murdered in 1915, when he was only 31 – in what became known as the Armenian Genocide.

Filmed in the Armenian town of Gyumri and in Portsmouth in England, writer and director Garo Berberian combines his love of Film Noir and arthouse filmmaking to create an exquisite, moving tribute to the majestic man and poet:

Garo Berberian: “When you are dealing with tragic events in history we tend to lose sight of the individuals concerned, their personalities, expression, feelings and loves, and I wanted to focus on someone that offered so much and asked for little”

The cast were also mostly from Armenia’s second town Gyumri lead by Tigran Gaboyan, one of Armenia’s brightest stars who enigmatically embodies Varoujan in the film. Tigran’s role is silent and we hear his thoughts through Istanbul born Yeğya Akgün who gives Varoujan his voice, keeping the authentic Constantinople accent of his Western Armenian poetry alive.

Garo Berberian says: “I wanted to film in Istanbul Taniel’s Constantinople, with help from a friend we met a top Turkish producer who really wanted to help, but it was obvious this was going to be impossible in the present political climate, we as Armenians are still not allowed our voice, our history and our pain. So it was off to Armenia and Gyumri, the city had all the locations I needed and most importantly many creative and talented people. Working with the theatre in Gyumri was a real pleasure, not only were they consummate professionals but they were a joy to work with, focused on the art of acting and the importance of representing one of our greats. I feel the films strengths are through its cast, their faces and their understanding of Varoujan’s pain, our pain, it was something we all shared and understood, this is not something that needed to be talked about.’’

Tigran Gaboyan, lead actor: “Playing Varoujan has been my baptism in the film world. And I was lucky to get baptised in a great group of creative people’. Acting in a film has its own difficulties, he thinks, as there is too much focus on the actor’s skill at any moment. He tells us that he’s played more than 100 roles in theatre, ranging from the main protagonists to smaller supporting parts, from Armenian playwrights to Shakespeare. ‘But it was a hard job to play Varoujan, a person who embodied a whole nation’, he adds.”

Yegya Akgun, Varoujan’s voice: “On the dark night of April 24 1915, the bright faces of Armenian society were marched onto a train that lead them to their end. Taniel’s many dark themes that he writes about in his poetry are prophetic for his eventual reality of being murdered. On 26th of August the day he was executed in a desolated forest, his son Haigag was born on the very same day. Taniel faced death with the sacredness of life. This surreal aspect of his passing could have been written by the man himself. While making the film, we were conscious of our great responsibility in making a short film of such a talented man and by recording of his poems, in the city that he lived, on the land where he was born we hoped to regain life in the beauty of his work. It is a sincere source of happiness for me to be a part of this project. With deep respect for his memory…”

Tatevik Ayvazyan, the films poetry producer, says that it is wonderful to be involved in a film celebrating our one of our majestic, innovative poets, whose ideas of beauty, peace and love are still alive and relevant. He was an artist, transcending national boundaries, and while he loved Armenia, he wrote for mankind, singing their pain, beauty and desires. She also says that it was extremely important that Varoujan’s glorious, rich Western Armenian sounds we hear in the film is endangered language now and needs to be heard, spoken, preserved and loved.

Music by Philip Glass played by Valentina Lisitsa sets the scene of World War 1 with heartfelt minimalist tones. Tigran Hamasyan and music from the album “Luys i Luso” are the driving force across the film with his complex and emotive cascade of notes and vocals, and Michael Nyman with his “Out of the Ruins” score builds and develops the feeling of tragedy and ultimately resurrection.

The film’s creative team is just back from Armenia: there were two screenings at the Golden Apricot film festival, which was a great opportunity to meet film fans, journalists and fellow filmmakers and share the film with them. There were also several screenings in Gyumri, where the cast and crew were reunited with the director to see the film they made possible, at Tumo creative technologies centre – showing the film to an excited group of children where both the director Garo Berberian and producer Nare Ter-Gabrielyan used to teach. There was also a very special, emotional screening and poetry reading session at the Genocide museum, which was an amazing honour and very well received by the audiences.

Taniel is currently taking part in the film festival circuit through 2018-19. It won two awards at the prestigious Bermuda International Film Festival and is selected to be screened through the summer and autumn in festivals including Shetland’s Screenplay, curated by Mark Kermode and DC Shorts in Washington.

The film continues its journey around the globe, artfully showing the audiences the tragic loss of life of a beautiful poet, accompanied with his own words.