Armenia itself is a character in Braden King’s movie, “Here”
Movie features Ben Foster and Lubna Azabel
Executive Producer Zoe Kevork talks about the challenges of filming in a country still trying to define itself
Published: Friday July 10, 2009
Yerevan - Zoe Kevork, the executive producer of the feature-length film Here, which is being shot entirely in Armenia this summer, hopes that when people see the movie, they will walk away with the impression that Armenia is a great place to explore. She wants them to know that while "it's a place with problems, it's also a beautiful place and has a lot to offer – friendly people and great mulberry vodka! That it's green and snowy, and flat and mountainous and desert-like all at once," she explains.
Here is a drama set about an American satellite mapping engineer, Will Shepard, played by Ben Foster (X-Men III) and an art photographer, Gadarine Najarian, an Armenian expat who returns to Armenia after living in Canada for 12 years, played by Lubna Azabel (Paradise Now). The two unlikely characters meet in Yerevan and they end up traveling the entire country together. It's a story of love and self-discovery and belonging.
"The idea behind it, coming from the title, Here, is about finding your place, both geographically and spiritually; where you fit in the world," Zoe explains. And do the characters in the movie, Will and Gadarine, find their place in the world? "It's a little open-ended," she says mysteriously. "They discover things, definitely, but it is still a little open-ended."
Co-written and directed by Braden King, Here promises to be a movie that will showcase Armenia for a wide audience in a way that has never really been done before. While developing the script, King (Dutch Harbor: Where the Seat Breaks its Back) was looking for a unique location to film. "He had the idea in his mind – of a satellite mapping engineer, of finding one's place; he had all the concepts he wanted to explore – he went to several countries, but somehow Armenia seemed to make sense because it's a country that is trying to discover itself as well, and that idea fit very well with what he was trying to achieve," Zoe told the Armenian Reporter.
Ready, Set, Action!
Today, the international production crew of Here, including the lead actors, are in Armenia. Filming is set to begin on July 22. The crew comes from England, Peru, the United States, and Armenia. Producers Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy are from the United States; cinematographer Lol Crowley is from England; the lead actress is from France; the grips are from different countries in Europe; the crew is from both coasts of the United States. All the other actors in the film were recruited locally.
Here is an independent film with a budget of about $2 million, which means that it doesn't have any big Hollywood studio backing. But, as Zoe explains, it has a lot of institutional support. "The script has been through the Sundance Film Festival's Writers' Workshop and the Directors' Workshop. A lot of these festivals have systems in place to help cultivate artists. That's where Braden met Lubna. The same with Cannes. The script also went through the Cannes Film Festival Atelier," the young executive producer tells us. Most of the money has come private investors and companies.
And what have some of the challenges of making a film in a country that does not often play host to foreign film crews?
A lack of technical expertise, logistical shortcomings, and a lack of equipment are the typical problems, she says. But in seeking financial support for the film from Armenians in the diaspora and Armenia alike, Zoe has met "psychological" obstacles. She is quick to point out that it's not for a lack of genuine interest, but "definitely a lack of appreciation and understanding of how a film can help the country. We are so used to this rigid point of view: we give money to build roads, to build orphanages, for infrastructure, but the idea of how the arts can help the country is still foreign to us and it's been an obstacle for me to kind of get that point across," she says.
With production underway, a local crew has been hired, and people are working in different locations. Local staff have been hired to work in the production office; interpreters, actors, and drivers have all been hired to work on the film. Money is being invested and at the end of the day, the country is being showcased.
Vicky Christina Armenia
"This is what we tell people: There was the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona, which was all about Spain, and it helped Spain's tourism industry. Then there was Once, which was set in Dublin, and all of a sudden people were talking about Dublin. Articles in a lot of entertainment trade magazines about these kinds of localized films being shot in these different locations and countries talk about how it's helped tourism in those countries," Zoe says.
Some problems border on the comical. Something as simple as getting two identical Nivas (a Russian-made SUV) has been a problem for the production crew. Someone will say, "Oh yeah, I have a Niva for you," and when they go to see it, it turns out that it's actually a Mazda. There has been a lot of miscommunication, and promises that haven't always panned out. Zoe believes it's because everyone wants to be a part of the film, so sometimes they'll make promises they know they can't keep just for having had some role to play.
Then there's the problem of the remoteness of some of the locations. As the main characters, Will and Gadarine, travel throughout Armenia, they end up in places like Meghri. "There are no hotels in Meghri. Where are we going put up our cast and crew?" Zoe asks. So they have to become creative, and look for villagers who have the basic amenities (running water, toilets, etc.) to rent rooms from.