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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
The amazing vanishing movie
Pierlequin / Lighter than Air
Pierlequin: The magical tale of an impoverished clown
A strange thing is happening to a movie from Armenia that has won awards at film festivals.

Each time the film, Peirlequin, is shown to audiences, a little bit of it is lost due to natural deterioration.

Shot on a tiny budget, the producers could only afford to make one copy of the award-winning film.

According to its UK owner, unless an investor is found, the film is likely to vanish before the audience's eyes.

"This film was made on absolutely nothing and there was only money to make one copy," Tom de Waal told BBC World Service's Arts in Action.

"The sad part is that when it gets to the West you expect things to become easier but in this case it didn't."

Custody

Pierlequin or Lighter than Air, is a low-budget film made by Armenian filmmaker Tigran Xmalian.

Telling the story of an impoverished clown, the film reflects on the country's finances and is a sad echo of the fate of the film itself.

Tigran Xmalian
Tigran Xmalian made the film on a shoestring
In 2000 Pierlequin won awards at the Moscow and Istanbul film festivals, but despite delighting audiences, every time this surreal film is aired it deteriorates a little.

Xmalian told Arts in Action a sad coincidence had led to there being just one professional print of the film in existence.

"I had an invitation from an English film company to make a better copy.

Unfortunately the English producer died in the process of shipment and the shipping company charged me 1,000. This is a big amount for me and I didn't have it."

Stuck in customs, the master reels were consigned to a warehouse. Learning of its fate, British writer and broadcaster Tom de Waal paid the bill and took custody of the film.

"I had seen a rather bad video copy of the film and was utterly charmed by it," he explained.

"So I stumped up the money for the shipping bill and delivered it from custody. The master copies are now sitting in boxes underneath my piano at home."

Challenge

According to de Waal, the tale of the vanishing movie reflects many of the challenges of film-making, distribution and preserving cultural heritage currently facing an impoverished nation.

"It is symptomatic of the state of the Armenian film industry," he claimed.

Shanty Housing in Yerevan, Armenia
The film demonstrates the problem of poverty in Armenia
"In Soviet times millions were poured into films as it was one of the great showcases of Soviet art and culture but recently it has totally collapsed."

Reflecting on the poverty and climate of Armenia in the 21st Century, the film's story is divided in time from the successful 1960s to the 1990s when fading stars have resorted to crime.

"There is this lyrical counterpoint between the 1960s, when Armenia was quite wealthy but quite repressed and stifled, and the modern era which is freer but everything has fallen apart," de Waal observed.

"The clown plays wonderful tricks in the film," he said.

"I think that is what Xmalian wants to do himself, he wants to inject a bit of film magic into the modern grim reality of Armenia."

Without investment the film itself will disintegrate and with it, De Waal believes, a little bit of cinema magic will be lost.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Tom de Waal talks to Arts In Action
"It is symptomatic of the state of the Armenian film industry"
See also:

08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
30 Jan 02 | Europe
21 May 02 | Entertainment
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