Artavazd Ashoti Peleshyan (Armenian: Արտավազդ (Արթուր) Փելեշյան; born February 22, 1938 in Leninakan) is an Armenian director of film-essays, a documentarian in the history of film art, and a film theorist. He is renowned for developing a style of cinematographic perspective known as distance montage, combining perception of depth with oncoming entities, such as running packs of antelope or hordes of humans. In the words of the filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, Peleshyan is "one of the few authentic geniuses in the world of cinema". He was named Renowned Master of the Armenian SSR Arts in 1979.
His films are on the border between documentary and feature, somewhat reminiscent of the work of such avant-garde filmmakers as Bruce Conner, rather than of conventional documentaries. However, his work, unlike Maya Deren's, is not avant-garde, nor does it try to explore the absurd. It is also not really art for art's sake, like the work of Stan Brakhage, for instance, but is generally acknowledged, rather, as a poetic view of life transferred onto film.
He has always made extensive use of archive footage, mixed in with his own shots, with fast inter-cutting between the two. Telephoto lenses are often used to get "candid camera" shots of people engaging in mundane tasks.
Most of his films are short, ranging from 6 to about 60 minutes long. They feature no dialogue. However, music and sound effects play nearly as important a role in his films as the visual images in contributing towards the artistic whole. Nearly all of his films were shot in black-and-white.
His early films, made when he was still a student at VGIK, were awarded several prizes. Twelve films by Peleshyan are known to exist. The Beginning (Skizbe) (1967) is a cinematographical essay about the October Revolution of 1917. One of the unique visual effects used in this film is achieved by holding snippets of film still on a single frame, then advancing only for a second or two before again pausing on another, resulting in a stuttering visual effect.
Other important films by him are We (Menq) (1967), a poetically told history of Armenia and its people, and Inhabitant (Obitateli) (1970), a reflection on the relationship between wildlife and humans.
Artavazd Peleshian's most brilliant film is considered, by many critics, to be The Seasons of the Year (1975), shot by cinematographer Mikhail Vartanov. It is a look at the contradiction and harmony between humans and nature and was the last collaboration between Peleshian and Vartanov, Armenia's two most important documentary auteurs, who first worked together on The Autumn Pastoral (1971).
Peleshyan is also the author of a range of theoretical works, such as his 1988 book, Moyo kino (My Cinema).
Being from a country removed from internationally significant cinema circles, Peleshyan's efforts were not initially well-recognized by critics of world cinema. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, he was able to make two more short films, Life (1993) and The End (1994). He is now living in Moscow. His most recent film was edited at the ZKM | Karlsruhe Film Institute in 2005-2006 and has not yet been released.
In his own words
In 1998, Peleshyan reflected,
"It's about what I'm striving for, what we're all striving for - every person, humanity...the wishes and desires of the people to ascend, to transcend ... I was thinking of everything. It's not specifically the seasons of the year or of people: it's everything ... Eisenstein's montage was linear, like a chain. Distance montage creates a magnetic field around the film ... Sometimes I don't call my method 'montage'. I'm involved in a process of creating unity. In a sense I've eliminated montage: by creating the film through montage, I have destroyed montage. In the totality, in the wholeness of one of my films, there is no montage, no collision, so as a result montage has been destroyed. In Eisenstein every element means something. For me the individual fragments don't mean anything anymore. Only the whole film has the meaning ... For me, distance montage opens up the mysteries of the movement of the universe. I can feel how everything is made and put together; I can sense its rhythmic movement."
- Vartanov, Mikhail. "Artavazd Peleshyan" Garun magazine, Armenia, 1971.
- Peleshian, Artavazd. "Moyo Kino" Sovetakan grokh, Armenia, 1988.
- "Famous Armenian Filmmaker Turns 73 Today". epress.com. Independent Journalists’ Network NGO. 22 Feb 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- IDFA - International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
- Parajanov-Vartanov Institute on Peleshian
- MacDonald, Scott (1998). A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Film Makers. Berkeley and Loss Angeles: University of California Press.
- Peleshian's letter to Vartanov