Exclusive Q&A With The Dilakian Brothers, Who Created Armenia’s Most Influential Animated Film

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The Dilakian Brothers, a pair of quirky Armenian-born, New York-bred artists, created Armenia’s most influential animated film back in 1976. Now, over 40 years later, “Gtnvats Eraz” (which means “Found Dream”) is still Armenia’s most popular and recognizable animated film – even with an entirely new generation of kids watching. While most Armenians are aware of the nostalgia surrounding the film, the Dilakian Brothers faced many hardships in bringing this film to the big screen in a land overwhelmed by Soviet rule. Today, the IFI sat down with Hovik & Gagik Dilakian in order to pick their brains and uncover the amazing journey behind the creation of “Gtnvats Eraz”. Here is the full interview:

Q: What inspired you to create “Gtnvats Eraz”? Were there any other animated films or filmmakers who helped shape the artistic style you chose for the film?

A: Walt Disney was probably one of the biggest influences – particularly the film “Snow White” – which my brother and I must have watched at least 55 times when we were children. Disney definitely paved the way for a lot of animators and filmmakers, and I’d say that we were inspired stylistically by his work.

Q: What was it like creating an animated film in a time where your country was forced under Soviet rule?

A: Honestly, it was really difficult. There was so much censorship in those times, as the government didn’t want any films that conveyed anything counterintuitive to the Soviet agenda. Instead, everything had to portray happy, little kids and subtly point to the glory of Soviet life. When we got the green light to make this film, it was very surprising and controversial – not for political reasons – but because there was a mystical, magical element to this film in a time when animated films were supposed to be “realistic”.

Q: What was the reaction like in Armenia when the film first debuted?

A: The film was well-received almost right away, and it become a staple on televisions throughout the country. People quickly learned the songs from the film and they became quite popular. Still, it wasn’t until the Internet became so relevant that the film started reaching a larger audience. Some of the “Gtnvats Eraz” YouTube videos have well over 1,000,000 views, and that’s really a big deal for us considering that Armenia is comprised of 4 million people.

Q: What would you say is the key message of the film?

A: Again, because of the government’s censorship, we couldn’t be too direct in the film’s key messages. For this reason, there are so many people who have developed their own interpretation and theories on the film’s meaning, which is something my brother Gagik and I welcome with open arms. “Gtnvats Eraz” is about a little girl who has the ability to walk through paintings and when she does, she’s able to discover new worlds and meet new, interesting characters along the way.

We think of the key message as this: there are many dimensions to reality, and it’s only through a careful consideration of every dimension that someone can achieve true happiness. Some people do quite well and build entire civilizations using only one dimension, but there are different angles and points of view that make us complete and could easily turn a negative perspective into a positive one.

Q: You’ve seen a lot of copyright infringement in the years following the release of the film, can you elaborate on that and why this has been happening? 

A: Seeing as the film was created in the ’70’s in Soviet Armenia, the copyrighting laws back then were basically non-existent. Since it has remained so popular, many merchandisers have found ways to make money off of our characters, such as making t-shirts, pajamas, dolls, candy bars and even entire restaurants themed around “Gtnvats Eraz”. With this in mind, we definitely didn’t make all of the money we were entitled to as far as royalties, etc., but we don’t let this get to us. We find joy in the fact that our film is so popular and we consider it flattering that so many people are moved enough to create memorabilia, whether what they’re doing is technically legal or illegal.

Here is an excerpt from the original “Gtnvats Eraz” created by the Dilakian Brothers. Although the film is in Armenian, you can still get a feel for their artistic style and understand why the film has become so nostalgic in Armenian culture:

 

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Meet the Exciting New Instructors Joining The IFI This Summer!

At the International Film Institute of New York, we understand that the quality of an instruction team is critical in providing the most useful and relatable learning experience. This is why we meticulously hand-select our faculty to include award-winning, working professionals who can truly empower our students with their knowledge and real world experience.
This Summer 2016, we are excited to welcome four new industry experts to the esteemed IFI faculty. We can’t wait to see them in action and we hope you will join us for one of our many Summer Programs to be part of the experience! Without further adieu, meet Kristi, Jesus, Stephen and Keola – the new and exciting faces that will be joining the IFI:

Keola Racela – Screenwriting Instructor

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Keola Racela is an American filmmaker and a recent graduate of Columbia University, where he received an MFA in Film Directing. His short films have played at festivals worldwide and received numerous awards, including Best Student Short (Woodstock Film Festival 2013), Best Short Film (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival), and First Place Gold Circle Award for Outstanding Student Film (The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation).
Keola’s short, entitled “Above the Sea,” won the Gold Medal from the Student Academy Award in 2014 for Narrative Film. Keola was selected from over 1,000 applicants for the inaugural year of the HBO ACCESS program where he wrote and directed the short “Emergency Contact”. In 2015 he directed episode 2 of “Sugar”, a PBS Indies Showcase web-series helmed by Rose Troche. His most recent short, “Two Sisters,” made its US premiere at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival and won best short at the 2016 Bermuda International Film Festival.
Welcome to the IFI family, Keola!

Kristi Palmer – Coordinator 

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Kristi Palmer is a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and an alumnus of the IFI. At Tisch, she focuses mainly on writing and directing but also works as a production designer. In her sophomore year, she interned for Neda Armian (producer of Rachel Getting Married) and later worked in the art department at Broad City. She wrote and directed a short film called Puppet Love, which was screened at Tisch’s Sight and Sound Showcase, and is in post-production for her intermediate film, The Coupon. Currently, she is writing a script for her advanced film and studying improv at the UCB. Welcome to the IFI family, Kristi! We’re excited to have you on board.

Stephen Lee – Directing Instructor

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Stephen Lee is a first generation Asian-American director based in New York City. Before moving to Manhattan, Stephen received his BA from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He worked closely with Magnum Photographer Jim Goldberg before becoming an MFA Candidate in Columbia University’s Graduate Film Program. His last film, entitled “Touch”, premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival and played at Clermont Ferrand’s International Competition in 2016. We are excited to welcome Stephen to the IFI family!

Jesus Alarcon – Directing Instructor

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Born in the city of Puebla, Mexico, Jesus entered the world of narrative at a very early age. He grew nurtured by the vast cultural riches of his country, which developed in him a particular sensibility for storytelling in its many forms. Jesus was awarded the Americarum Universitas Scholarship to study his Bachelors Degree in Communications Science at the Universidad de las Américas–Puebla, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He spent a year abroad studying at the University of Leeds in England, where he debuted as a director in the short-films program.

Jesus has worked as a producer, director, cameraman and editor in Mexico, England, Spain, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. He completed his M.F.A. in filmmaking at the University of Columbia in New York, where he was awarded the Cinematography and FOCUS fellowships. He received the Hollywood Foreign Press Award to promising filmmakers. Jesus was selected to participate at the Cine Qua Non Lab Screenwriter’s Workshop in Michoacán Mexico, where he’d later serve as the CQNL Fellow from 2011 to 2013. Currently Jesus has just finished the short film “Cadena Perpetua”, and is in development of his first feature film “Esperadoras”. Welcome to the IFI family!

 


About the IFI

The International Film Institute of New York was created to provide intensive, comprehensive and quality training in the art and craft of cinematic storytelling, including but not limited to: screenwriting, directing, production and editing leading to the creation of a short film by each student. In addition to learning the technical disciplines and aesthetic principles of filmmaking, students also watch and discuss classic films being given, thereby, a sense of the historical and cultural context of motion pictures in our society. Filmmaking – narrative, documentary or experimental – is a collaborative endeavor and developing that skill, which will serve them well in the industry and beyond, will be an essential component of their experience at IFI.