There Was, There Was Not

There Was, There Was Not follows four women living in the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), an unrecognized country reckoning with the aftermath of one war and while on the precipice of another. In the midst of this uncertainty, four women build a life with the hope of making their home a better place: A political activist runs for office to give greater voice to women and women’s issues; a martial artist strives to bring Olympic gold back to her homeland; a domestic violence activist helps women despite receiving death threats for her work, and a single mother disarms landmines from the last war. When war breaks out again, what began as an observational meditation on women’s role after conflict becomes an urgent and intimate record of four women's lives interrupted once again by war. From taking up arms on the front lines, to fleeing their homes as refugees, we watch each woman’s life change irrevocably. When the war finally ends, most of their homeland has been forcibly taken and the women must find a way to rebuild with the little that remains. In the midst of this struggle for survival in a new reality, each woman sits down to tell the myth of their homeland, which may not exist much longer.

  • Emily Mkrtichian
  • Brock Williams
    On Her Shoulders, It's Only Life After All
  • Mara Adina
    Chuck Norris Vs. Communism, A Cops and Robbers Story
  • Alexandria Bombach
    Frame by Frame, On Her Shoulders, It's Only Life After All
  • Emily Mkrtichian
  • Anne Fabini
    Additional Editors
    Of Fathers and Sons, Writing With Fire
  • Ilinca Calugareanu
    Additional Editors
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    1 hour 30 minutes
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Director Biography - Emily Mkrtichian

Emily Mkrtichian is a filmmaker, multimedia artist, and interdisciplinary creative collaborator. Emily’s evolving artistic practice reflects her upbringing in a mixed diasporic family, and centers the decolonized narratives of women, especially from the SWANA region, and a deep commitment to the healing power of relational, ethical, collaborative storytelling. Her films includes the sci-fi short Transmission, which premiered at BFI FLARE Film Festival, the short documentary Motherland, which premiered at the Full Frame Film Festival and won the Best Short Documentary Award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival, and the upcoming feature documentary film, There Was, There Was Not, which has been supported by the Sundance Institute, the IDA, Chicken & Egg Pictures and HotDocs. Her immersive, multimedia installation Luys i Luso, created in collaboration with Tigran Hamasyan, has been exhibited in NYC (BRIC Arts), LA (Arts Activation fund recipient for public art), Istanbul (DEPO Gallery), Munich (Unterfahrt), Armenia, and Bulgaria (European Capital of Culture). She is currently developing an audio project exploring the question of taking up arms, and armed struggles led by women across the globe, as well as a speculative non-fiction film anthology and multimedia exhibition collaboratively created by SWANA caregivers called Portals. Emily has been a Flaherty Seminar Fellow, a LA Public Arts Activation Fund recipient, A Locarno Film Festival Open Doors grant winner, a UnionDocs Summer Lab Fellow, a resident at the Yerevan Institute of Contemporary Art, and participated in the Torino Film Lab. She currently splits her time between the US and Armenia.

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Director Statement

For me, telling stories has always been a way to connect with the dreams, memories, and culture of a people and a place. I grew up in the Armenian diaspora, constantly hearing stories about our culture, our history and our home. Every part of my connection to Armenia has always been filled with story and myth. When I moved to Armenia, listening to stories of the people there is how I created my own relationship with the place - beyond the mythical stories my family spun when I was younger. There were struggles and difficulties I hadn’t been told about, gritty realities that couldn’t be contained in tight narratives about strength and resilience. This tension between the stories we tell about our communities, and the realities that exist within them, fascinates me and drives my storytelling. In this project and in my work, I explore outcasts, exiles, people who may blaze a new trail, but don’t quite fit in with those around them. Every woman in my film fits this description - as do I.
My relationship to these women - as an Armenian woman, as a filmmaker - has deepened over the last four years, most notably because we survived a war together. Even as bombs fell around us, we looked out for each other, cared for each other, and tried to offer strength and support. The women kept telling me, ‘That camera is our weapon.’ After the war, together we mourned the loss of our land, a loss we as Armenians have felt over generations, and tried to strengthen each other in the face of what feels like endless persecution and violence.
This film is our record of that persecution, but also of the resistance, resilience, and creativity we as women constantly offer in the face of it. That is why I have chosen a creative team of women, to help me take this personal story and offer it as hope to other women around the world striving to make their homeland a better place, to strengthen their communities, and to guarantee safety and security for their children and families.