Levon Kalantar Speaks On His New Film And Experiences As Film Director
Kalantar's new film is the result of lived experiences. It is about how a person's "self" is gradually impeded, and how the inner freedom and creative spirit of an entire generation is restricted
Armenian film director Levon Kalantar, 66, born in the 20th century and living in the 21st century, examins and merges the facade concepts and hidden subtexts of these two eras, his venture to tear down the ''iron curtain'' of the Soviet Era to see more than he was allowed to.
Having experienced the "luster and poverty" of the Soviet period on his own skin during his adolescence and youth, Kalantar has a candid story to tell to the 21st century’s youth.
Kalantar's new film is the result of lived experiences. It is about how a person's "self" is gradually impeded, and how the inner freedom and creative spirit of an entire generation is restricted. With his new film, the Film Director not only composes an ode to freedom. The simplest and yet most complex human conditions such us love, friendship, loyalty are interwoven in an exquisite way.
Let's take a little tour at the intersections of his past, present and future for a deeper understanding of the Director's ideas and the message of the new film.
Why didn’t Levon Kalantar`s spaceship take off
Kalantar, your surname sounds interesting, have you removed the traditional Armenian ending- “yan” or have you inherited this surname from your parents? Please, tell me about your surname and the story of your family. Where are you from?
My mother’s ancestors are from Constantinople (currently Istanbul), my father’s ones are from Agulis and Van. I got the surname as an inheritance. Till now many people assume it is a first name, call me Kalantar. I think that “yan” is hidden under a rock during the Great Deportation and has been waiting for my return and our reunion. My father was a film-critic and a very good chess player. He even became a champion of Yerevan in 1961. My dad is the author of many books about cinema. The last was Parajanov's book “ Reviews about Parajanov”. My mom was a musicologist.
All parents want their children to become either good lawyers, or good doctors, or something similar so that to have a profitable profession. Did you face any obstacle when choosing a profession?
My father dreamed of me becoming a director, but he never pressed on my choice. I was dreaming of becoming a guitarist, aspiring to be like Jimi Hendrix. Once I saw Paco De Lucia on TV. All my dreams were shattered at once and I made, perhaps, my most stupid decision - I hung a guitar on the wall forever depriving me of that path. The years passed and I became interested in cinema. Fellini's “Amarcord” and Parajanov's “The Color of Pomegranate” were decisive for my choice.
What kind of a child were you, what memories do you have from your childhood?
My childhood was rather difficult. It's very hard to speak about it. It impacted all my future mistakes in a curious way. We lived at the intersection of Lenin and Marx streets with an aggressive neighborhood, where anyone's goal was to humiliate another and cause maximum harm. I remember how I was beaten by the older guys of our street, when I started building a spaceship in the yard. Years later I understood the spaceship’s take-off was impossible from the intersection of Lenin and Marx streets.
The street is an endless movie
Were you an active student during your university years?
At the institute I only studied well major courses, but I abstained from all Marxist and atheism courses.
Did you enjoy studying and what memories do you have from university?
The university wasn’t a place for pleasure, of course, but during those years I met a lot of life-changing women who steadily influenced my life.
When did you perform your first surgery? I forgot that you are not a doctor. What was your first movie?
You weren’t wrong, my first movie was like a surgery. It was my thesis; the film was about a “measuring man” who used to work on the street.
Filmmaking is a broad concept. In which genre do you imagine yourself most, which genre is close to you?
Definitely documentary if I didn’t cherish a dream about a feature. In documentation, if you act honestly, you are limited. The feature is a great field for lying, inventing, making stories closer to reality and in general for blowing minds. And finally, for doing whatever you wantJ))))
Do You catch scenes and make mini-movies with your eyes while walking down the street?
The street is an endless movie. Would you believe that I never look at my phone on the street? There are unreal stories from the street that I have made real. For example, once a stranger woman approached me, gave me a hug and said: “How long has it been since we met? How are you?”, I said I was fine and tried to end the conversation. But she asked: “Do I remember Levon Kalantar, where is he?'' ''He is dead,''I said. It was real. The unreal thing was that she got happy and said that God punishes everyone.
The connection between Khujan Radio and the new movie
I know you plan to make a pseudo-documentary. Where did the inspiration come from?
Haha, this is a topic for a long talk, are you ready for it ?
I think it was the year 1972, I was in Kirovakan (currently Vanadzor) with my friend Karen Tevosyan. We went to our friend's place for a coffee. Everything started exactly from there. The radio on the table was on and suddenly I heard the anchor talking about Deep Purple's song ''Into the Fire''. We hated the Soviet Union and dreamed of its collapse. Can you imagine the existence of Deep Purple in the Soviet Union? It was an era filled with “militia-men”, KGB agents, Young Communists' party songs, summer camps of young pioneers and empty shops. Can you imagine daring to go on air in a country, which was considered to be the holy of the holies and was controlled on the highest level. In general, during those years, rock was underground, but slowly was coming out. When Dj Budulay announced that song I thought that the Soviet Union stopped its existance. But I was quickly brought to my senses being told that it was on “Khujan” Radio(hooligan radio). Coming home I decided that I would put together my own radio transmitter and would go on air. One night I stole the headset from the phone booth on our street, came home and started my radio station. I didn't know much about the radio of that time, but already had the scheme, which, by the way, was also stolen from the “pioneer palace”. My good neighbor saw my "feat" of the night. Later it turned out that he was a “militia” agent, a kind of public infrastructure activist. In the morning the “militia” came to our house, collected and took away all the equipment. They also took my sister's hair-dryer and the iron of the house. I will be silent about the conversation I had with my parents in the evening.
Why is the title of the future film ''Roll over Beethoven''? I know that you are a true music lover, do you love that song? It's interesting that you have added a musical element to the title as well.
On November 10, 1982 my friends and I were celebrating my birthday. That evening I don’t know why we kept dancing to Chuck Berrie’s song ''Roll over Beethoven,'' and as soon as the line ''Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news'' came, we screamed loudly and repeated it. I was coming to work by public transport in the morning and learned right on the bus that Brezhnev had died. I started to laugh loudly and the line “Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news” immediately came to my mind. I imagined poor Beethoven turning over in his grave and telling Tchaikovsky the news. There is a scene in my film where this song will be played during Brezhnev's funeral.
Every year thousands of films are shot all over the world. What will be the novelty of your film, what new idea or technical solution will you offer to the audience?
It seems everything is done and said in the world of cinema. I can hardly surprise anyone with technical solutions and I don't see the point of it. But there is an untold story about our generation, a story about forever lost opportunities, a story about a hopeless rebellion, a story about tragic love.
The film is a story of two friends living in the Soviet period, each has his own internal and external struggles. Living in the Soviet era, have you felt what the characters of the film felt?
Yes, I felt it and that says it all. But the film is not about me. It is about our generation. It's a big tragedy, when a friend betrays his friend with the threat of facing a much greater disaster. The privilege of our generation is the fact that we understood everything very well and could forgive one another for everything, I repeat it because we were aware of everything.
Through the film you raise an extremely important issue, that is, the freedom of speech is intertwined with the freedom of the person. What is the key message you want to get across?
The basic message? … only one story. Is it interesting for you? Take a look or pass by. But if you ask a question, do you know, think or even remember those people who, endangering their well-being, their lives, paved the way for freedom of speech for us. We stand on it and calmly lavish all its benefits.
What other subplots are there in the film, besides Soviet repression and the main plot?
It is the character of Marina. I am silent. I want her to be in the film.
What will be the cast of the film?
I have already found the main actors: Hamlet Chobanyan, Alex Chobanyan, Arthur Khudoyan, Arsen Abrahamyan, Anahit X. I must find three more actors. I am thinking.
What do you think, who is the audience of your film?
I am afraid to answer this question. Of course, I would like to have a wide audience, but there is a problem: the younger generation knows almost nothing about the "Iron Curtain", the role of the rock in the collapse of the Soviet Union. For understanding the film, this is extremely important. The film can be definitely perceived as a good story, but I repeat, that is not enough.
Every artist cherishes his creation like a small child. How close is ''Roll over Beethoven'' to your heart?
To the point of unrequited love.
What movie would you recommend to watch tonight?
If you haven’t seen, I will recommend Bob Fosse’s movie “All That Jazz”.
What would you recommend to read?
All the books by Carlos Castaneda.
In your opinion, the most scenic place in Armenia?
Is “Roll over Beethoven” meant to be, or not ?
It depends on me: how quickly I will find and convince funders.
To speak often or to be silent often?
To speak always with friends, but to be silent sometimes, when it comes to the police and the beloved women.
The ''Roll over Beethoven'' is a new project of an Armenian Film Director Kalantar. Among his past films are "Tough Nut", "Ayb, Ben, Gim", "Niece from the Caucasus", "All films are about love", "Guardians", "Parts of the Circle", "Karabagh fairy tale". In 1999 Levon Kalantar was awarded the first prize of the "Eurasian International TV Forum" for his ethnographic program.
To enjoy the sounds of Chuck Berry's ''Roll Over Beethoven'', you can turn on the stereo and enjoy the famous performance, and to enjoy the sounds of Kalantar's song of freedom, ''Roll Over Beethoven'' film should become real.
Go Kalantar and tell Tchaikovsky the news!!!
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