“Armenia Uncovered” documents the journey of Kev Orkian – one of the U.K.’s finest, award-winning comedians – on a fun-filled journey to discover his roots in Armenia. Kev’s travels take him through a country the world knows little about, which has one of the most ancient cultures on earth, unbelievable natural beauty, and incredible hospitality.
From the ancient streets of Yerevan to the rural towns and villages of Artsakh, Kev explores everything there is to know about Armenia – from it’s beautiful cities, diverse religious architecture and breathtaking landscapes, to its mouth-watering food.
Throughout his journey, Kev meets with locals and celebrities alike, to find out if Armenians really are THE most hospitable people on the planet. He’s also on a mission to learn why it’s compulsory to do everything on a full stomach in Armenia.
During the film, Kev interviews Armenia’s greatest soccer player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Armenia’s pop sensation, Sirusho, as well as the legendary French Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour.
Recently, Asbarez had the opportunity to discuss the making of “Armenia Uncovered” with the film’s Director Andy Simon and Executive Producer Raffi Tanielian.
Asbarez: What inspired the creation of Armenia Uncovered?
Andy Simon: Growing up in Australia, with Armenian parents, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I found it difficult identifying with my Armenian heritage. Armenia at the time was under Soviet rule and traveling there was almost impossible. None of my family or their friends ever set foot in Armenia. My father died without ever having visited Armenia and when my mum became very ill, I promised I’d take her if she got better. Thankfully she did, and, in 2015, we became the first people in our family to visit Armenia.
Raffi Tanielian: As a Diasporan Armenian growing up in the U.K., nobody had ever heard of Armenia. That changed briefly in the late ‘80s, because of the earthquake, but generally we seem to be known for two things: the genocide or Kim Kardashian. Having been a frequent visitor to Armenia, I felt it was time that this changed, and, when I found out about Andy’s vision, I was always going to back him to make this film.
Asbarez: Can you tell us a bit about the process? How did you come to choose the locations and interviewees you shot?
A.S.: When I returned to Australia and decided to make the film, I thought it was really important for audiences to not only be informed about Armenia, but to also laugh and be entertained. I wanted them to feel what I felt when I first set foot in Armenia and to connect with the beauty of the land, and to also feel the warmth of the people. That’s what led me to Kev Orkian. In my mind, he was the perfect host to bring this dream to life.
I also believed it was really important to capture a level of “realness” on screen with Kev and for that reason we worked primarily without a script. I wanted him to engage with every person he met along the way and, if there was genuine laughter, it had to go into the film. That’s why virtually every scene was shot in one take. For audiences to be fully entertained, Kev had to be himself, humorous, irreverent, and friendly. It’s for this reason a lot of it is shot in a “reality” style format with the camera constantly rolling. It was also important to get the right balance between funny and serious stories, and this became somewhat of a challenge for me throughout the post-production phase.
Having visited in 2015, I had a pretty good idea of the locations I wanted to film – I mean, how can you visit incredible places like Noravank and Garni and not be inspired? I also understood the importance of getting out of Yerevan and into the villages, to shine a light on the amazing warmth and hospitality of the local people, because I truly believe that once the word gets out, Armenia will become one of the hottest new tourist destinations on earth.
R.T.: We wanted to ensure that we showcased the best of Armenia. Everything from the people we interviewed to the locations we visited. Understandably, some of the celebrities we approached were unable to find time within their busy schedules, or simply were unable to coordinate something that worked within our tight production schedule. But, I think we still ended up with a pretty good mix of A grade celebrities and locals alike.
Asbarez: What message do you hope to get across to the audience through this film?
A.S.: Put Armenia on your must-see list of places to visit in the world and don’t delay, because the secret’s already out.
R.T.: I think we want audiences to understand that Armenia is a very special place on earth, like no other country they have ever seen before. It’s a land with an ancient past and a wealth of culture, but most importantly it’s also got a modern, vibrant fun-filled capital city in Yerevan. It’s also made up of very proud, friendly, happy people who love eating, singing, dancing, and making visitors from around the world, feel right at home.
Asbarez: What was the most difficult part of the process?
A.S.: Initially, before Raffi and Alice (Tanielian, Associate Producer) came on board, funding the project was always going to be a major hurdle. We started a crowd funding page and hoped to raise enough to cover travel to and around Armenia and other production expenses. Despite over a million shares of our crowd funding page, we raised less than $3,000. Similarly, we had problems getting rights to film in a lot of places in Armenia (museums, holy sites, some public areas). Once Raffi was involved, I didn’t have to deal with any of that.
R.T.: Having good relationships with a number of government departments and several NGOs certainly helped. Children of Armenia Fund and Tufenkian Foundation – I’m a Trustee for the foundation – made so many introductions, without which the production may never have happened. Similarly, the church was too happy to assist, as they could see we only had philanthropic aims to the project. In particular, Srpazan Nathan Ohanessian in Echmiadzin and Srpazan Hovakim Manukyan in London organized for the crew to film in otherwise restricted areas.
Asbarez: Did you learn anything new about Armenia while creating this film? If so, what?
A.S.: That it’s true – Armenians do the longest goodbyes in the world.
R.T.: Never underestimate the power of the Diaspora. This production is also the story of how three Armenians, from around the world, who met through social media, have worked together for the last two years on the power of a handshake. Armenia is a place where you meet as strangers and part as family.
Asbarez: Is the film what you expected it to be? Did you follow the same vision from when you first started, or did it shift as the project progressed?
A.S.: I think that my vision when I first started was much smaller. Raffi kept pushing me to think bigger and better. The longer filming went on, the more Kev’s infectious and indomitable personality shone through. We have so much great footage, probably enough to make a part two, even a part three.
R.T.: Better. Much better. I think Andy has done a phenomenal job and our collaborative efforts to edit down the huge number of hours of footage to what we have now, worked much better than expected. Sometimes, as a producer, you have to take the editing process away from the director as their vision isn’t always as “commercially viable” as it needs to be. No such concerns in this case.
Asbarez: What’s next? You have shown the film in London and Sydney. Where else would you like it shown?
R.T.: We wanted to showcase the movie in both London, my hometown, and Sydney, Andy’s hometown. Our world premiere in London was attended by 250 people including ambassadors, high ranking clergymen of all faiths, members of the British Parliament, representatives from the worlds of fashion and art, as well as a number of journalists eager to cover the event. The following evening we screened at a charity event (organized by Hamazkayin) so that the London Armenian community would have a chance to see the film.
In Australia, we were honored to be invited to be the closing film at the Armenian Film Festival of Australia. We also visited Melbourne and showed the film at an event organized by the AGBU.
We will be closing the ARPA Film Festival in Los Angeles on November 9th and closing the Pomegranate Film Festival in Toronto on November 17th.
Our aim is to show the film to the world, and we’re eager to get on streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime, so any help from your readers in introductions to the right people at those organizations would be very welcome.
My hope is that what “The Promise” did for our past, “Armenia Uncovered” will do for our present and future.