BY AVO JOHN KAMBOURIAN
Upon graduating from college this last year, I decided to spend my first 3 months out of school, living in Armenia. My experience in June began with meeting as many new faces as I could, and taking lots of photos in a number of remote locations around the country. Being interested in photography all of my life, as well as film, I found lots of inspiration within the homeland.
Soon enough, I realized that the three months I had planned weren’t going to be enough. I added 2 more to my trip. At this point, I had started working on and off as a workshop leader at the Tumo Center for digital arts and technology.
When arrived this summer Tumo wasn’t a name that was unfamiliar to me. My initial experience at the center happened during my last trip to Armenia, in early 2010, when I was a Birthright Armenia volunteer. We were once brought into what was only to be the skeleton of that which stands today. No students, no coaches, no classes. Just eager minds ready to create a space for more creativity, and it would be the youthful kind.
Birthright Armenia introduced our group of volunteers to Marie Lou Papazian, who now serves as the Director of the center once it opened. In 2010, all she had was a Power Point presentation on what Tumo was to become; it was the dream of providing opportunities for kids in Armenia to gain knowledge and practice in technology and art.
The center that stands today was the result of that idea. The main efforts to establish the center were due to the Simonian foundation, whose founders Sam Simonian and his wife Silva have made sure that Tumo doesn’t require tuition from its students, as long as they are fully committed to their coursework.
By bringing together art & technology in different forms: robotics, music, animation, and filmmaking, the Tumo center’s prospective goal is setting out to create a new generation of competitive youth in Armenia.
My workshop surrounded the practice of short-form documentary storytelling. The ultimate goal of the workshop was a series of 5 to 7 minute videos prepared by the students. With little to no experience shooting and editing their own videos, a lot of technical instruction was to be given during the workshop. And thankfully Tumo provided me with two coaches and plenty of resources to get the ball rolling.
We started the first session of class watching various examples of what documentary videos looked like, and criticized both what students liked and did not like about these videos. Then I gave them their first assignment, which was a compositional exercise for which they would each collected 9 compositions that were to be analyzed and presented to the entire group of students.
The following week we analyzed their composition assignments, and each presentation was completely different then the last. I really wanted them to focus on why composition matters, before we moved on to anything else. If something didn’t look okay to them I wanted them to understand why they felt uneasy about certain compositions and favored others. Was it the lighting? The placement? The textures? And I think they understood the point quite well.
In the second week of the workshops, kids came back with proposals for their final projects. As the coaches and I reviewed their proposals we set up shooting dates and coordinated their schedules for the following week. Second week we also had breakdown camera and editing workshops.
And the last week was spent editing their final presentations. We were actually using the same camera I have, as well as the editing software I use myself. And that allowed me to go very much into detail on how to address certain issues they might have while learning how to use these new tools. I really wanted to understand that playing around with these tools is always important. In order to understand that their isn’t just one way to shoot and edit a video.
So when presentation day finally came, kids brought parents, their friends and fellow Tumo colleagues to watch. The projector was on, the lights were shut off, and the first documentary started to play for an audience of about 50 people.
Suddenly, I found myself looking at the audience members instead of looking at the student films (which I’d already seen). As cheesy as it sounds, I was reminded of my some of my own first screenings. A sensation of proud hysteria and being bothered by thoughts of what could have been improved, if the sound level were okay, or if that one shot is consistent with the rest of the edit.
And then I realized that what I actually wanted my students to take away from this workshop more than any of the technical skills, was the sensation of experiencing that moment. The moment that inspires you to do it all over again, to build off of past ideas, experience and of course, a great number of mistakes. I was very happy when the lights came on and saw the reaction on many of the students’ expressions and that sigh of relief in their faces. I’m glad that I was able to spend time with such an eager and fun group of kids.