(DOC NYC ran November 6-15. Lead critic Chris Reed is there bringing you tons of coverage so stay tuned! Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
Rarely have I felt quite so uninformed and ignorant as I did halfway through I Am Not Alone, Armenian director Garin Hovannisian’s account of the 2018 popular uprising against his country’s authoritarian leader, Serzh Sargsyan, as said ruler attempted to have himself installed, after two terms as President, as Prime Minister, a position he had changed, while in office, to have almost unlimited power. A peaceful revolution in Armenia? How had I missed this? Granted, in the Trump era we are all treated to a daily barrage of outrageous information, flooding our brains with data and leaving almost no room for anything else, but I still felt ashamed. Perhaps, however, this moment of sudden self-awareness merely illustrates one of the many ancillary negatives of the reign of the Donald, which is how insular we have become in our thinking as we become focused on the internecine debates raging at home.
Fortunately, Hovannisian (1915) is an excellent guide through these very recent events, first introducing each character and then walking us through a simplified layperson’s history of the past 10 years. In 2008, Sargsyan was elected to the presidency, though questions of voting irregularities clouded the results. Protests followed, and then on March 1 of that year, government forces opened fire on a crowd, killing 10. Journalist Nikol Pashinyan, seen as a primary opposition activist, fled to escape imprisonment, but after 1½ years came back, only to be sentenced and jailed. Released in 2011, he was eventually elected to Parliament. Though under increasingly autocratic rule, Armenia still made room for some kind of dissent.
Flash-forward to 2018, and Sargsyan’s decision to make himself Prime Minister. With 18 days before Parliament is set to formalize the appointment, Pashinyan decides to rally what remains of Armenian opposition to make a symbolic march across the country, ending in Yerevan. Their numbers are small, but all goes well, the lonely resisters even composing a song – the titular “I Am Not Alone” – and collecting a stray dog, Chalo, along the way; he quickly becomes their mascot. Upon their arrival in Yerevan, they are greeted not by the cheering crowds they had hoped to see, however, but just a few hundred supporters. Things are not looking up for the Armenian resistance.
And that’s when it all takes a very unexpected turn. Thanks to Hovannisian’s intimately embedded camera, we are right there, every step of the way, the observational material beautifully supplemented by talking-head interviews recorded after the fact. Knowing nothing (see first paragraph) about what happened, I was gripped by the real-life drama unfolding in front of me. Proof that democracy is not dead and that people everywhere – even in post-Soviet countries prone to tilting backwards towards past misrule – still have a voice, the magnificent I Am Not Alone is a call to action to all of us, for none of us are alone when we stick together. It’s a comforting thought in these perilous times.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)
Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?