1489: A film that had to be made

English Daily #1
1489 (Shoghakat Vardanyan, Armenia, 2024), Yerevan Premieres, 9-7 19:00 House of Cinema Grand Hall

It might be a cliché, but it remains true that the more personal and specific a story is, the more universal and relatable it becomes. This is certainly the case with Shoghakat Vardanyan’s documentary debut 1489, which deservedly garnered the top prize at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this year. It’s an incredibly intimate film that stems out of the suffering Vardanyan and her family have experienced when they were figuring out if Vardanyan’s brother was still alive. As a 21-year-old student and musician, Soghomon Vardanyan was sent to the front of the Nagorno-Karabakh war and at some point, turned missing in action. As time passes by, Vardanyan’s careful use of the camera around her father and mother reveals the creeping dread and sinking feeling that Soghomon might have passed away. It’s the not knowing that especially eats away at the family. They try to remain hopeful, but a telling scene sees Vardanyan confronting her father about how starts referring to Soghomon in the past tense, as if he’s already gone.

It's commendable how Vardanyan treats all these intensely personal materials, especially considering the fact she never intended to be a filmmaker. So, what you see here is the direct result of a necessity to pick up the camera, to record, reflect and remember such a crucial and painful moment in one’s life. This is also where the universality of 1489 kicks in, as the film gradually transforms into a poignant elegy for Soghomon. Yes, it’s a particular story of the Vardanyan family and a general reflection on the hardships of Armenia and Artsakh, but it’s also a pure embodiment of grief that transcends all its locality and specificity. By turning the camera to herself in moments of sadness and crisis, Vardanyan becomes a universal symbol for people that miss, and yearn and long, in this case for something that has possibly already passed.

While 1489 wrestles with the absence at the heart of its story, it also shows the solidarity, compassion and sense of community that give a much-needed counterpart to the main narrative. The adoring way in which Vardanyan films her parents also become a part of the texture of this film, just like the way a support network of friends rally behind Vardanyan while she’s on her heart-rending quest. Although the film at times can be harrowing, it is this beating heart and sense of humanity that keeps it all together.

Hugo Emmerzael