“Here exists no sign, no path, no distance and no time.”
– e.e. cummings, poet
“Artists don’t wonder, ‘What is it good for?’ They aren’t driven to ‘create art,’ or to ‘help people,’ or to ‘make money.’ They are driven to lessen the burden of the unbearable disparity between their conscious and unconscious minds, and so, to achieve peace.”
- David Mamet, playwright, screenwriter, author and filmmaker
When attempting to discuss my vision of HERE over the years, I’ve found it almost impossible to disentangle lines of summary and statement, story and form, biography and approach. Now, looking back, that struggle seems both appropriate and fitting.
I make films that attempt to defy classification; combine traditional methods with experimental approaches; and explore the storytelling and experiential aspects of the medium. I am trying to find the limits of where film can take a viewer – on tonal, emotional and narrative levels. HERE is the culmination of over fifteen years of work in film and photography that has sought to find those limits and discover new ways to move past them.
On one level, HERE is an attempt to explore the meeting points between prose and poetry, logic and illogic, waking life and the dream – and to look at the ways in which our literal and metaphoric explorations define our personal boundary lines and orient (and disorient) our inner and outer worlds. On another, it’s about uniting the narrative and non-narrative film practices that have so greatly and equally inspired me. On a more literal plane, it’s about mapping a new landscape for the Movies – going out in an effort to bring back new images and tales of unexplored “lands” full of formal and narrative territory we don’t often see (if we get to see it at all).
All of this has lead to HERE: a meditation on geography, relationships, time, culture, politics and exploration in the age of GPS, Google Maps and globalization:
What is lost anymore? What is found?
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To say I knew any of this at the outset – to say it was planned – would be false. HERE is the result of a long search to find a way to bring a few early, abstract feelings about my experiences on the road and in the land into a more structured, tangible form.
There was no “I’ve got a great idea for a film about a mapmaker” moment. There were endless questions: What is this thing that I feel I must do? How do I give form to this feeling, this tone? How do I move into a narrative structure that I feel so utterly compelled to explore when, at the same time, I feel so skeptical about “story” and the ways it so often limits cinematic possibility?
* * *
Luckily, a few answers came: Stories about Armenian culture and geography buried in the New York Times; a friend of a friend who did this crazy job called “ground-truthing”; that first late-night, “let’s ditch this party” discussion with my co-writer, Dani Valent. I have grown to feel a great affinity for Richard Dreyfus’ character, Roy Neary, in Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, sculpting the Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes, shaving cream, garbage – anything he can find – over and over, until he finds his answer. Roy doesn’t know why; he only knows that he must. He helped me load up the station wagon for my own trip to the aliens’ landing site in Wyoming, rambling, “Trust me. The radiation reports are bogus. I can feel it.”
As of this writing, HERE feels like the current point of landing on a journey that began with an earlier film: Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back. Several years after finishing Dutch Harbor, it occurred to me that it contained everything I knew how to express at that point. I put the whole of myself into that project: my experiences with photography; film; playing and recording music; travel; my relationships – all found their place, all were used. HERE now feels like the next chapter of that.
To answer one practical question: I am not Armenian, nor do I consider HERE to be solely about Armenia, per se. To make a long story short, the country simply presented itself as the most appropriate landscape and culture in which to set this story. My first visit, in 2004, felt like answers to questions I didn’t even know I was asking. What I found was a unique, cinematically unmapped territory that was home to a culture obsessed with geography, history, poetry, art and film. I couldn’t have made it up if I’d tried, and I became obsessed with how much this unique place had to offer this particular film and the world at large.
Hopefully, all of this reflects something of where HERE has come from – and what the film is ultimately, most truly, about.