Photographer and director Sascha Klamp came to Armenia for the first time after the Artsakh 44-day war and decided to make a film about women and children of Armenia. His first film is about Armenian bordering villages Khachik and Masrik where he gives life the archival photos of those villages. Then in December 2022 when Azerbaijani “eco activists” blockaded the Lachin corridor Sascha decided to return to Armenia and make a film about the children of Artsakh who could not return home after the closure of the Lachin corridor. We spoke to Sascha about his films, his current project The Blockade and the reasons for filming 16 children of Artsakh.
Sascha, tell us about you. How did you start filming?
I’ve been working in the financial markets as an investor for over 20 years and I decided for film 4 years ago to maybe spend more time with my hobby which is photography. I am a photographer, I think in visual language. That’s why I started doing this and I decided to take a more professional approach to the whole thing. I did a few projects in the beginning. In 2020 I came to Armenia after the war and that was my first social justice project which I think is the area which I really want to focus on and obviously after the war my thinking was initially at least to focus on social fabric. I mean, how the community in Armenia behind the scenes actually come together to support each other in times of this stress. That was my starting point. And with that kind of theme which I think was very successful, I want to continue it not just in Armenia but elsewhere. So my next project is already set in Zimbabve. So I am trying to continue the idea in the concept that I started, that includes the community archive, that I built in Khachik. I think that was a phenomenal concept. It was so well received everywhere. So I continue doing this in other countries, other communities for other reasons of course but bringing people together, sharing history with photo albums, but also sharing in their Instagram feeds. That’s my kind of starting point.
You filmed The Art of Seeing. The Art of Remembering in Armenian small villages Khachik and Masrik, so why have you chosen these tiny places?
When after the war I came to Armenia I didn’t know a single person in Armenia. All I have was my flight ticket and hotel and an idea of making a story about social justice and social fabric. And initially I wanted to make films about women and children. I think during and after the war women and children suffered the most. And the first time when I came I walked around the city, there was a young boy, he was 17 or 18, his name is Suren at that time and he followed me and took pictures of me all the time. At some point I stopped and asked why he was picturing me all the time. And he asked, “Are you not Leonardo DiCaprio?” I said no, I’m not. And with his help I met Yana, who suggested I go to Khachik if I want to film about women and children. So this girl helped the people of Khachik during the war. And that’s how I went to the bordering village Khachik.
Let’s talk about your current film The Blockade, how come the idea of filming these children from Artsakh? How did you find them?
I came to Armenia with the idea. Every day I draw ideas. And when I read about the Artsakh situation and many people called me, I called many people both in UK and Armenia and in the US and I asked people what they thought about the situation in Lachin and they asked me Sascha “what are you going to do?” I said, “what can I do?” But I felt that I could do something to raise awareness but I did not want to do something political. I told people that I am not a political activist, so I am not a propaganda channel, that’s what I won’t do, but I said I can tell the human stories and I want to focus on that. And there before our Christmas (a week before December 24) I sat on my desk and I had COVID at that time and people asked me “when you are coming, what are you going to do.” I said, “I’ve no idea yet.” And then one of my colleagues, Karine, who works at the NGO focused on children, sent me a link to Nare’s Eurovision performance (Nare represented Armenia in Junior Eurovision 2022) on youtube. I watched this and I think this could be an idea on how to tell a human story. Then I read some news reports that talked about these kids who were stranded in Yerevan and elsewhere in Armenia, including Goris, so I thought if I can get Nare and these children, I would have a story. That was the number one idea. Idea number two: the film ends with the piano that was the visual picture on my head. I wanted mountains and Artsakh in the background, I wanted to go to Lachin, I wanted a gas pipeline on the road. That’s my visual idea. I left London on January 2nd and no one wanted to help me to get Nare. Everyone was scared thinking that my film is political and Armenian State Television didn’t help me either, but I said I want to make a film about human’s story. No one believed me, trust me. It took 4-5 days to find people who could get access to Grigor (Nare’s producer).
Was it easy to work with the 16 children from Artsakh, as you know they were in a very bad psychological condition?
I have 3 daughters. So my oldest daughter is 14, the same age as Nare. The other 2 daughters are 12 and 9 years old. So I used to work with kids and also I was a governor in a school in the UK. So I am very happy to work with these children. Yes, obviously they have political views coming from the parents but many of their thoughts are still quite pure. So for me it makes it easy to work and produce an honest film. To me this film is quite honest and it doesn’t feel that there is a lot of scripting going on. The kids are just talking about their daily life and problems they see which I think is much better for western audiences. The western audience will believe this more compared to political films. If I made a political film no one would believe me. This story is believable.
What is the main idea of the film? Who is the film for?
The film is about educating people in the West. Many people who watched the film in the West criticized the film by saying “it takes too long for me to understand what’s going on.” But that’s your fault not mine. They want to know more about what’s happening, but if you don’t know it’s your problem not mine as a producer. Why I made this film, because the Western media has not spoken up enough. I made this film for children. I wanted 19 children who I filmed to share on their Instagram. I want Nare to use her platform and share in her Instagram. I talked with Nare’s producer and asked him to share the film with all other Eurovision contestants. And last night the winner of Eurovision, Lisandro, shared the film on his Instagram. So that’s my idea. I want the teenagers to share this, not you and me, we’re too old. I want the kids in Europe to see it, so my kids are also sending the film and I want the kids to talk to their parents at dinner saying, “mommy, daddy I saw this video today about these kids in Artsakh, do you know about this?” I want the kids to convince their parents to listen. I want to show that these children are so thoughtful but also the way they talk to their parents. One of them talking with mother said, “Mommy it’s 33 days since you haven’t seen your son, that’s a jubilee.” It’s an honest moment.
Have you watched the video when the 16 children in 2 buses tried to pass the blockaded part of the Lachin corridor and how Azerbaijani side reacted and terrified the kids. What are you thinking about this? What was your reaction to this?
I was amazed when I got the video. I was really amazed. I decided not to share it in the film at the end. I think it’s stressful to watch. It’s stressful to watch when you know what happened. I’ve recognized these kids on the bus. I’ve recognized 3-4 kids in the footage from my film in Goris and I found it stressful to watch and I felt I could translate this into a text at the end of the film. I think the text is more powerful than the visual in this case. I feel incredibly saddened to see this, it makes me angry, it frustrates me. But I can’t change the world, I can tell the story.
Have you ever been in Artsakh?
I wanted to go to Artsakh but I’m not allowed to. It’s basically impossible since the 2020 war for international journalists to travel into Artsakh.