“WE” film director: “The Karabakh topic will never end for us”

“WE” film director: “The Karabakh topic will never end for us”

The presentation of the film titled “We” was held at the Heydar Aliyev Palace and it was one of the great contributions to the celebrations of the Armed Forces Day. The closed-door presentation of the documentary, which was held in accordance with the quarantine rules, revitalized some of the memories, leaving the audience in tears with excitement and pride born of the glorious Victory.
Orman Aliyev, the director of the “WE” documentary, a joint project implemented by the “AzerbaijanFilm” studio and the Baku Media Center with the support of the Ministry of Culture, in a recent interview spoke about the idea of the film, the filming process and future plans of the Center.

Communicating emotions to the audience

Mr. Aliyev, the film has given the audience a great sense of pride and honour after our great victory in the Patriotic War and revived our memories of the Karabakh war. I felt the great excitement of the audience and read the emotional comments posted on social networks after the presentation. From this point of view, the impact of the documentary chronicle is quite obvious. How did the idea of the film come about? How did the format emerge?

– The 44-day Patriotic War was a very tense time for all of us. Like any creative person, I was thinking about creating something and expressing my opinion. I noticed that all the people were extremely excited. The war came suddenly and was completely unexpected for us. People had different feelings at the time: they were waiting for news from the frontline, looking forward to official information and following social media. The 44 days felt both long and short for us. Everyone was awake on the night the act of capitulation was signed. As soon as I heard Mr President’s speech, I immediately went outside with my camera. I captured people’s joy of the victory until the evening of that day. I was filled with emotions I hadn’t experienced in a long time. It seemed as though the people had long been hungry for victory: people were celebrating and crying of joy. It was as if everyone knew each other. It was as if we were all children of the same mother.
There are not too many moments when you feel the unity of the people and fully appreciate the interdependence of the nation. I was further convinced that I wanted to communicate these emotions to the audience, collect these feelings and concentrate them in one film. We all know that film crews, including representatives of the media, were not allowed to visit the frontline for security reasons at the time. There was a problem with material available for creative people, especially in terms of audio and video actuality. Material forms the basis of any audio and video production. When filming a documentary, we work more on the basis of video and documentary material. I thought a lot about “what format I should use” and “how to present the events”. For a long time, I watched the material circulated on social networks, the videos that had become popular. This is when the idea of this film came about. I wanted to find the heroes from the videos, talk to those people, bring their images onto the screen, and collect their feelings in a film. As a result, the “WE” film appeared.

There are shots in the film that create a bridge between the rear and the frontline. During the war, many statuses were written and videos shared on social networks. All of them were filled with excitement, tears, emotion, pride. How did you select your heroes? Why was it them who were brought to the screen?

– In fact, there was a lot of material. It was very difficult to fit all the videos within one film. We had to make a choice, of course. I cannot say this to the audience though. I spoke from the stage at a closed-door premiere for the military. I now have the opportunity to appeal to readers again through your newspaper. I apologize to the heroes I could not depict in the film! Because these heroes are innumerable. Due to the timing of the film and other technical factors, we could not use many people. The format of the film starts with a vertical image, not the horizontal one we are used to. We filmed our heroes from several cameras. One of them, the main camera, was a vertically mounted camera. With this vertical image, we could show the talking heroes from head to toe. In modern times, smartphones have entered our lives. If you have noticed, 90 per cent of the videos circulated on social networks today are horizontal. This affects documentaries and modern film aesthetics. The classic canons are already changing. The 16:9 format we are used to is also changing. The key thing in the present-day documentary is to convey information, an image and a video fact, to the audience. It does not matter whether it is in a horizontal or vertical format. If I had shot this film from scratch, if I had not used the footage circulated on social networks, it would have probably been in the classic 16:9 horizontal format. I wanted to preserve all the emotions and not to lose the image of the people talking. During our internal discussions in the team, I was sometimes told, “Let’s not distract the audience.” I think our brain is quite unique. If the same drama unfolds in more than 20 windows at the same time, there is no need to look at a specific image or window. There are some disturbing and anxiety-filled shots in the film – the footage of the bombing of Barda, Ganja and Tartar. These were video facts, and I thought it was important that they be in the documentary, especially since it was a film about war. I simply looked for a format to present this in. I wondered how I should show all this so that the spectators keep watching and not flip the channel. There is no author’s interference in the music or footage throughout the film. In other words, the author had no intention of manipulating to create some new effects. Whatever background music there was on Tik-Tok, Instagram and Facebook, we used the same, we did not change and did not infringe on copyright. Some may have good taste, others may not, but it has nothing to do with patriotism. Shooting in this format was an experiment for me also because I had stopped working as a film director eight years ago. I have been with the Baku Media Center for eight years now. It was the first time I had considered it a civic duty to make this film as a film director.

In the interests of viewers

There is an opinion that “the best film about the war is always shot after the war”. This film is also a product of the post-war period. Despite your idea of a “message to the audience”, you can also make a feature film based on real facts. In today’s reality, it would be interesting to know what the difference is between a documentary and a feature film in terms of conveying the truth.

– This is a matter associated with me personally. I am more of a documentary filmmaker. Before coming to the Baku Media Center, I worked at Public Television and was one of the founders of the “JarchiFilm” Center. Before that, I was the director of more than 30 documentaries on various topics at the “Azerbaijan” division of “Lider” TV. Personally, I am more attached to the documentary genre. Maybe one day I will come to feature films too. It is difficult to make a war film, a film about human tragedy. I believe that there is a great need for documentaries on this subject. Yes, the war is over. It is easier to work after the war, and there is also more work to do. But the media war is not over and will always continue.

How long did the filming of “WE” last?

– If we count only the shooting days and editing, it lasted four months. It took longer to find respondents and collect archive material. I wanted to make sure that the activities of the Baku Media Center did not stop during this period. Because when you work on a documentary, you live inside the material, but there are also ongoing errands you have to deal with. Although respondents spoke for about 2-3 minutes in the film, it took us 2-3 hours to film them. During this time, it is as if you are living the life of that person, and then you go out and attend to other things. This is not easy. I want to say a huge thank you to my team for that! They were a great support. It would have been very difficult without the teamwork. In general, the people working in this centre love what they do. Our success is underpinned by the love of our work.

The closed-door presentation of the film covered a certain audience in accordance with the pandemic restrictions. Will there be a broader presentation of the documentary? Will the film be shown at festivals?

– Of course, we will do our best to show the film to a bigger audience. There are ample resources to do that. We want to conduct a wider presentation of the film in September-October unless the quarantine rules change. After that, we would like to show it on TV and in cinemas. Yes, we are also thinking about the film’s festival life. A large delegation of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism attended the closed-door presentation of the film on Armed Forces Day. In an informal meeting with them, we were invited to several festivals. We will probably start from Turkey. We will definitely want to send the film to several European festivals as well. But we also saw the attitude of a number of European countries to our country during the war.

A film about Shusha

Does the Baku Media Center plan to make a series of films about the liberated territories?

– We have visited these areas several times. We have unique material. We filmed the “Kharibulbul” festival and the holiday prayer in Shusha. The Karabakh topic will never end for us. More documentaries, feature films and projects will be made in the future. We are currently working on a documentary about the liberation of Shusha. Fortunately, after the liberation of Shusha, our film crew was allowed to go there. Immediately after the victory, our film crew went to Shusha together with the soldiers, lived there for a long time and managed to capture some unique images. Our photographer Zaur, director Javidan and cameraman Ali lived in Shusha without water and electricity for a long time. We are already using those exclusive photos. I believe that our new documentary will be ready by the end of the year. In the film, we want to show how courageous Azerbaijani soldiers liberated Shusha and won the great victory.

It would be interesting to know your feelings after the presentation of “WE”.

– I saw several rounds of applause on the day of the presentation. People were crying, laughing and rejoicing … I received a lot of positive energy. I said to myself again, “Orman, you shouldn’t forget your profession”. It is true that I made some important documentaries for our country as a producer. But these were rather odd feelings for me as a director: “How did I ever achieve these emotions?” I was thinking about that for a long time and kept thanking the Almighty. I had not experienced such feelings in a long time. It seems that I was able to communicate something through the film. We will continue working in this direction. Our desire to return to Karabakh has shown that we worked hard to be together. We now feel that unity both in and outside Azerbaijan. This is what makes us “WE”!

This article originally appeared in oxu.az on 11 July 2021.