Finding the Voice of Taniel – Yeğya Akgün

Director – Garo Berberian

Unable to film in Turkey, our locations and cast came from the Armenian town of Gyumri. Our lead actor, Tigran Gaboyan, one of Armenia’s top theatre stars, was asked to perform without speaking because I wanted Taniel Varoujan’s words to be heard as thoughts. The Western Armenian dialect is very different in both sound and vocabulary from the language in present day Armenia and I knew when creating a film about a cultural icon, the voice in “Taniel” needed to be faithful and respectful to Varoujan, and this was no easy task.

It was a sad realisation that the Western Armenian language is now in a precarious position and considered endangered by UNESCO, over 100 years after the mass deportations, massacres and genocide the lands where the language had millions of voices is silent, you will not hear the jovial slang in Cilicia or rhythmical nursery rhymes in Constantinople, cheeky songs about love and life in Smyrna or poetry in the form of prose in Taniel Varoujan’s family home in Prknig, The names of these places no longer exist too.

Through friends and acquaintances we sent out a casting call for a fluent Western Armenian actors, and after many months we eventually focused on a young actor in Istanbul, Yeğya Akgün, who was a revelation.

His love for Varoujan was apparent, so too was his ability which shone through all the other recordings. Varoujan’s poetry speaks through his deep emotions, sometimes loving and lustful, sometimes dark and black resigned to death, sometimes celebratory of life but always articulated with dexterity and emotion something Yeğya needed to find within himself, which he did with great professionalism and talent.

Poetry Producer – Tatevik Ayvazyan

It was very poignant and symbolic to record the Armenian poetry in Varoujan’s city, by someone approximately his age. We were very lucky to meet Yeğya Akgün, who not only understood and loves Varoujan’s poetry deeply, but was able to bring it alive in his wonderful velvety voice.

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Yeğya and Armen

The poems chosen for the film had a very wide range of style and themes – starting from heartache of a mother whose house is ruined and whose son is in exile to an intimate ode to love. It was a beautiful moment, when rehearsing with our language consultant Armen on his beautiful balcony on Kınalıada island, overlooking the Sea of Marmara – we realised that Yeğya is the perfect choice to carry the task of portraying a great such as Varoujan.

The recordings started the next day at a small studio, full of cats – true to Istanbul’s reputation of city of cats.

Team Poetry at the recording studio

Varoujan is not easy to read – most of his poems are not rhyming, he can go wild with his words and invents and uses his own luxurious vocabulary. But whether it was Andastan‘s blessing tone, the pain of The Aged Crane or the solemn Light, Yeğya brought these poems alive, urgent and emotional reminding us of a beautiful language that may not be with us 100 years from now.

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