Oksana Mirzoyan

Filmmaker Mirzoyan Documents Spiritual Solitude with Authentic Hermit

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DETROIT — A good filmmaker must be someone who offers a different perspective of the world. The power of observation — of color, light, movement and sound — and knowing the emotions these evoke, must be harnessed to reproduce these aspects of life on screen. Standing back from the world and watching it, learning about it — but not necessarily being a part of it — is one way to become such an observer. In a way, watching the world as a filmmaker is not unlike watching the world as a monk.

Oksana Mirzoyan is an independent filmmaker born in Baku whose family fled to the US and settled in Detroit when she was young. She has always been drawn to monasticism. At 18, she wanted to run away to a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. Now the perceptive artist has chosen to explore the ascetic tradition of her Armenian forebears in a new short film.

Tatevi Anabad Monastery

A Providential Encounter

Mirzoyan has been working on a larger film, to be titled “Abysm,” which will tell a fictional narrative tied into the Karabakh conflict. In the film, she planned to have two young soldiers take refuge with a monk at an abandoned monastery. But she needed to find a location to film the scenes.

The filmmaker chose Tatevi Anabad, “The Great Hermitage of Tatev,” not to be confused with its much more famous neighbor, the ninth-century Tatevi Vank “Monastery of Tatev.”

Tatevi Anabad is a now-abandoned complex built in 1608-1613 and abandoned just 45 years later. The short-lived monastic community was not sustainable due to earthquakes and floods in the valley of the Vorotan River where it is built. Its inaccessible location and overgrown appearance made it ideal for Mirzoyan’s film.

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In 2019, while teaching at TUMO Stepanakert, she visited Goris (her mother’s hometown) and hiked out to Tatevi Anabad. “I went there for a hike and there saw a man sitting and talking on the phone. There are farmers who wander in the gorge, so I thought he was a farmer. I paid no attention to him and started to take photos. He goes inside and comes out in his monastic clothes. He came on the roof [where I was standing] and started talking. We spent the rest of the day together.”

Monk Hacob

The Hermit

Despite his use of a cell phone, “Monk Hacob,” as he is called in Mirzoyan’s film, was living the life of a solitary monastic hermit. In his mid-60s, Hacob had always wanted to be a monk but took the typical path of marriage and family in his native Gyumri. When his kids grew up and moved away, he agreed with his wife that he would follow his long-time dream. Now he has been living by himself at Tatevi Anabad for the past 6 years.

Mirzoyan says that they bonded over their shared love of gardening, but it took 6 months to get “the hermit” to agree to a short film depicting his daily life. The artist is excited for the possibilities. The project was chosen by the Berlin Film Festival to be “mentored” by an international team, and the story evolved quite a bit during that time, but fundraising has been more difficult, says Mirzoyan.

The hermitage itself also enthralled Mirzoyan.

“Being from Detroit, I love abandoned structures. There is a spirituality about them as they are being taken back by nature. It’s transcendent.” Mirzoyan also mentions old villages, now ghost towns, where she plans on shooting footage. Her abundant imagination pictures the time when these places were alive and vibrant.

Monk Hacob’s proximity to the border will also shed light on the recent war and his opinions of the situation. But the primary purpose of the film is to explore the nature of solitude. She says that this was something which allowed her to connect to Monk Hacob. “We both love solitude. I plan to spend time with him, understand what his perspective is, what does it mean to be in solitude. To get an understanding of his spirituality, Armenian spirituality and perhaps, come closer to my own.”

The filmmaker is still amazed at how Monk Hacob appeared in her life. “It was a moment of synchronicity,” she says. “It felt like, ‘how did this just happen?’ I’ve imagined this character in my film for so long at exactly this location.  I went to scout the location for the film and there he was.”

Mirzoyan departed for Armenia on September 29 to shoot footage for the film.

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