Entertainment Spotlight: The Unconventional Art of Filmmaker Garine Torossian

BY GEORGES ADOURIAN

Asbarez has often given broad coverage to the arts and culture, keeping up with up-and-coming talent in our community. Our correspondent Georges Adourian caught up with some of the new rising stars in cinema, television and the arts for our 2010 Year-End Special.

We will be presenting Adourian’s interviews in a series of discussions with filmmaker Ara Soudjian, actor Hrach Titizian, and Canadian-Armenian actress-director Garine Torossian. In their own words, each discusses their individual struggles, the challenges facing young entertainers, and the unique projects that have propelled their success.

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Garine Torossian is a Canadian-Armenian filmmaker, known for her unconventional style and personal touch. The Beirut-born artist moved to Toronto with her family in 1979 to escape the Lebanese Civil War. Her interest in the arts blossomed at a young age, leading her to explore her Armenian-Lebanese-Canadian identity through film. Described as the next Atom Egoyan, her films blur the lines between drama, documentary, and experimental film, exploring themes of memory, desire, sexuality, identity and existence. Torossian’s works have been featured at various international film festivals and retrospectives.

Torossian discusses her life and art with Adourian below:

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GEORGES ADOURIAN: The concept of “Identity” underpins your work. Please share how the story of your life has come to influence your art.

GARINE TOROSSIAN: I was born in Beirut, Lebanon to Armenian Lebanese parents. When I was still a child, the Lebanese Civil War broke out and in 1979 my family moved to Canada to avoid the escalating violence. Growing up in multicultural city Toronto, my interest in art began at a young age.

It was inspired by my family’s love of craft and workmanship, particularly the women in my family who were avid embroiderers and weavers. Surrounded by the living arts, I grew up both part of and in between many worlds (Armenia, Lebanon and Canada) and felt free to explore each through my creativity.

During those formative years, I was also exposed the legacy of genocide and human rights atrocities having lived with my grandparents who were genocide survivors. Their trauma, which was passed along to us through the stories they told us made me sensitive to the need to acknowledge memory and history.

At age 12 I started to draw. For a few years I wandered into the worlds of fashion and theatre, but felt they both limited my creative ambitions. In high school, I discovered my school’s dark room and began photographing my fashion and theater designs which were composed of plastic and found materials. I found the mystery of the dark room to be alluring and enjoyed the freedom photography allowed me. Through the influence of my brother, who was studying film at the time, I was inspired to start shooting on super 8 and video 8.

By age 21, while I was attending York University in Toronto, I began to incorporate found footage into my early shorts. I collaged film stock and began to push the boundaries of cinematic language to address the issues and ideas important to me, including identity, pluralism and human rights.

G.A.: Why and how did you choose to try and solve conflicts with cinematic storytelling?

G.T.: Actually, my artistic intention has never been to solve or resolve conflict. I suppose that is a valid way of telling a story but it does not fit in a dominant way in my own personal paradigm. I tell a story because I find it compelling and the most important aspect of telling a story (that may or may not have conflicting aspects to it) is to tell the story artfully and beautifully and hopefully differently.

What drew me to the cinema in the first place is the inter-disciplinary nature of the medium. One can draw from music, the performing arts, photography and incorporate all of these fields into a story. I felt free in the medium of filmmaking and more than solving conflicts, film has a way of unfolding or unveiling the mysteries my life, and this process is more about learning for me than resolving conflicts, personal or collective.

G.A.: Your films are not ordinary documentary films, they have a very personal color and style; is this done subconsciously or  is there more to it than that?

G.T.: Any kind of hard, time-consuming work is conscious work and film-making even in its most abstract form is no exception, so there is a method to all the madness! There is a method and there is a lot of conscious work, there is a lot of planning. It is true that from the body of my work, only Stone Time Touch fits the category of documentary and so perhaps viewers are more likely to describe is as literal. My previous 18 short films are more along the line of poetic montage. They are both conscious and subconscious.

The subject is always conscious and so is the work and the architecture of the film but the visual style or interpretation comes across as subconscious. In my earlier works, the images almost always came first. These were images that evoked an emotion. With Stone Time Touch (which I actually thought of calling Noise of Time, the title of a Mandelstam book) the material was Armenia, the desire to connect with Armenia, not just as an imagined place I got to know through books, but as a tactile, palpable territory and people. I wanted to go there and get to know it more intimately and then to see how that corresponded to the idea I had of Armenia before going there.

G.A.: Last month, The Canadian Film Institute organized a retrospective of your work, how did it go?

G.T.: It was a great honor. I was able to attend the opening in Ottawa and presented Stone Time Touch which was followed by a q &a. It’s always a good experience to have the chance to have a dialogue with an audience, especially a few years after the film has been completed. It’s a very rewarding experience.

G.A.: Talk about the book about you authored, titled “The Moving Images of Garine Torossian,” which The Canadian Film Institute published recently.

G.T.: Tom McSorely, director at the Canadian Film Institute is the editor of the catalog which contains essays by other filmmakers and industry peers about my work. It was published in conjunction with the Ottawa retrospective. As a filmmaker I am truly honored to have had my work studied by other filmmakers and academics. I am also honored to be published by the cfi and to be part of Canadian film history.

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