Documentary filmmaker Emile Ghessen (Photo credit: Emile Ghessen´s official Facebook page)

Emile Ghessen’s New Documentary Depicts the Artsakh War: ‘45 Days: The Fight for a Nation’

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By Maydaa Nadar

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Around one year ago, on September 27, 2020, the Second Karabakh War erupted. It was only halted after 44 days through a Russian-mediated ceasefire agreement. Former British Royal Marines Commando who now makes documentaries, Emile Ghessen, travelled to the region to observe what was occurring there and to relay information about it. He recently sat down for an interview.

Could you give us a brief introduction about your films?

I served as a Royal Marines Commando for 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was not trained for media, yet, and after the military service, I bought a camera and followed international volunteers who were heading to Iraq and Syria to fight against the Islamic State. This was for a documentary feature which I made discussing what was motivating them to battle. Afterwards, I attended a film school to shoot my second feature film about men travelling to Ukraine in order to confront the pro-Russian separatists. “45 Days” is my third independent feature film.

How did you discover your passion for documentaries?

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My passion was born with me narrating stories that I have vividly lived and with my desire to give voice to the voiceless, with the aim of educating people.

What were the challenges that you faced while shooting the documentary “45 Days: The Fight for a Nation?”

The biggest challenge was the restrictions because of COVID-19. Getting access to the frontline to be with the soldiers also presented a challenge. It took time, but I eventually got the permission to be present with them and tell the story.

How was the film’s title selected?

The war lasted 44 days. The 10th of November was the 45th day and I believe it is a turning point in Armenia’s future. So my work included the period of 45 days and not just the 44-day war.

Why do you think this documentary is important?

The documentary is important because there was a lack of news revealing what was happening here. The Armenians continued to be under threat from their neighbors; if the story is not told, it will be forgotten. Making this film was about documenting history.

Why did you choose to go to Karabakh?

I chose Armenia because I saw that its case was not given the deserved attention and that almost no one else was speaking about it; so I thought it was important to tell the story from its perspective.

Where did you stay there?

I stayed in a hotel in Stepanakert or at people’s houses during the war.

Were you at the frontline with the fighters against Azerbaijan, or with the civilian population?

Both, the documentary was filmed at the frontline and with civilians; it is a mixture of footage.

Documentaries and arts in general are soft power tools. In this regard, how is Armenia utilizing its soft power to preserve its identity?

Generally speaking, arts are essential to show others. Otherwise, important information and details about them would fall into oblivion. Concerning the relation between arts and identity, in an attempt to wipe out their identity, the Nazis burnt Jewish books for instance. So, to see what happened, for this not to be in limbo and to prevent another war in the future, I hope non-Armenians watch this film.

Could you tell our readers more about your documentary “Ukraine – Europe’s Forgotten War”?

I understand what war is because I fought in them and now I am filming them. “Ukraine – Europe’s Forgotten War” is like “45 Days”; both address humane issues and give the viewer an insight to a world they wouldn’t otherwise see. I think the stories I talk about in my works are powerful tools to deliver humane messages.

What is the main theme of your documentary “The Fight against Islamic State”?

ISIS was taking over Iraq and Syria; western countries focused more on Assad´s removal, so individuals took it upon themselves and fought to make difference. Were their actions right? That’s not for me to judge.

Which of the three documentaries is the closest to your heart?

“45 Days” is the closest to my heart, as I invested more time in my latest work, which gave me the chance to spend more time with Armenians and depict their story. In other words, narrating their story is a love project.

From your point of view, what are the challenges that face documentary filmmakers?

People downloading our work for free is killing creativity and arts. As one of the professionals working in the arts’ industry, we do need to earn a living. If we cannot acquire a livelihood from our work, then how can we be independent?! I was lucky because my latest work was financed by GoFundMe.

Where is your favorite place?

I love travelling and experiencing new cultures and traditions. For my taste, the Middle East is an interesting area because of its rich history and precious heritage.

What is your favorite Armenian meal?

The food in Armenia is tasteful and amazing; as for my favorite dishes, khorovats [Armenian barbecue] is one of them.

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