Q&A: Jared White & Lilit Pilikian / Filmmakers

On 5 April 2015 by Alisa Damaso

 

This month, Jared White and Lilit Pilikian are embarking on making a short documentary film about Armenian identity in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The documentary, called “100 Faces of Survival“, will explore how the dispersed Armenian population is thriving 100 years after this tragedy. Jared and Lilit have launched a Kickstarter campaign for their project and need your help to get this film off the ground. There are only 5 days left in the campaign, so contribute what you can today!

Killer Creatives: Tell us a little about your backgrounds.

Jared White: I love a good story. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, tantalizingly close to the allure of Hollywood. Majoring in film production at Cal State Northridge helped me to find my passion for directing. Four years rising in the ranks at Panavision culminated with my job as a workflow consultant on major feature films, including Captain America, The Smurfs, and Ted. Since striking out on my own, my work has frequented film festivals, received national television exposure, and been featured on the top platforms on the web. I’m always looking for the next great story to tell.

Lilit Pilikian: I’m an Armenian born in Los Angeles and I went to Armenian private schools until 6th grade. Growing up, I was good at two things: math and art. One day, I realized I could do both, and that led me to Otis College of Art & Design. As an Industrial Designer, I’ve primarily worked in consumer electronics, most recently expanding a line of girl’s tech at Mattel. I’ve also worked in User Experience as part of the Innovation team at Sony Pictures, and as a production designer on a host of film sets. I believe in improving the world around me through creative thinking and problem solving. No matter where I go or what I do, I think differently, and I think that’s in no small part because I’m Armenian.

JW: Oh yeah, and we’re married!

 

KC: How did the project come about?

LP: Well, I look for any excuse to work with Jared. And I’ve had this idea kicking around the back of my mind for a while to use our particular skill sets to explore my cultural background. The idea has evolved and changed quite a bit as it has turned into a reality. But really, the catalyst for this project was the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

JW: We wanted to be there to help document this historic moment. But as I talked to people in the Armenian community, I realized that they didn’t want another film just focused on the genocide. And while we do want to raise awareness and push for genocide recognition, we started to see this as an opportunity to look into how the Armenian people have, despite enormous tragedy, found success all over the world.

 

KC: What is the significance of the title of your documentary?

JW: Well, obviously 100 is an important number this year. And as I started delving into possible thematic directions to go in, I kept coming back to this idea of identity. It’s fascinating to me. What does it mean to be Armenian? Especially when three times more Armenians live outside of Armenia than within it, largely because of the genocide. Also, Armenia was the first official Christian nation, but they were under the atheist Soviet Union for most of the 20th century. And their tumultuous history led to the splintering of the Armenian language into two distinct modern standards. So the more I looked into what it means to be Armenian, the more I realized there are countless answers to that question. But the spirit of survival is the common thread I’ve seen. Hence, “100 Faces of Survival.”

 

KC: What should viewers expect to learn from this film?

LP: We’re hoping to share this project with people that might not know much about the Armenian culture. It’s a small country with a long, rich history and a strong people. Armenians are not just victims. We’re surviving, even thriving. As big a part of our history as it is, there’s more to us than just this tragedy. Armenians are a small minority in many of the countries they live in, yet they still make a big impact.

JW: I think we’ll be shedding a light on the many prominent Armenians out there that many people may not know about, or may not know are Armenian. One example: we just secured interviews with Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, and Raffi Krikorian, former VP at Twitter, who’s now at Uber. We’ve also lined up interviews with a government official, musicians, a film historian, an Armenian linguist, a priest, and more. And I can’t wait to see who else we’ll meet while we’re there. Ultimately, I believe the personal is the universal, and the issues of identity we’ll be exploring apply to all of us.

 

KC: What challenges have you faced working on this project so far?

JW: First of all, we’re traveling halfway around the world and filming in a variety of situations, some of which we can’t anticipate. This poses unique challenges just in terms of the logistics of bringing the right balance of equipment so that we’re prepared but also agile. And while Lilit knows Armenian, interviewing people in a foreign language brings its own set of obstacles.

LP: Every project has its share of challenges, it’s just a question of how you meet them. We’ve been continuously overwhelmed by the support we’ve been shown by the Armenian community. People have suggested wonderful places for us to visit, people that would be good to interview, and generally offered us many helping hands.

 

KC: What are you most looking forward to in working on this project?

JW: Well, I’ve never been to Armenia, so I’m very much looking forward to this trip. This will give me a chance to practice the Armenian I’ve been learning, and I’m definitely looking forward to the food! But aside from all that, I can’t wait to talk with the diverse assortment of people we’ve lined up and hearing their stories.
LP: I’m also looking forward to connecting with the land and scenery. We’ll be filming many of the historic sites, which include thousand-year-old churches, natural rock formations, and even the world’s longest cable car. I’m most looking forward to visiting Kars, now part of Turkey, to visit the village my great-grandparents once fled. I hope to try to find the house that they built.

 

KC: Jared, is this your first documentary? How does this film compare to your previous works?

JW: Most of my work has been in narrative filmmaking. And while I’ve worked on several documentary-style projects before for educational audiences and the like, I would say this is my first documentary film. It’s a very different animal. I’m used to planning everything out in advance. I like to storyboard, rehearse with actors, and generally go into production very prepared. Here, there’s still quite a bit of preparation, but there’s a sense of finding the story as you go. We’re certainly going in with a plan and setting up as much in advance as possible, but we’re going to have to do a lot of thinking on our feet. I think this will be a valuable skill that could even bring a fresh approach to my narrative work.

 

KC: Lilit, have you been to your homeland before? What’s it like? 

LP: Yes, I’ve been to Armenia before. The first time, I was just three years old, and I was there for the birth of Armenia as an independent nation after the fall of the Soviet Union (not that I remember much). The second time, I returned when I was twenty for my cousin’s wedding. And this will be the third time, for the commemoration of the genocide. There’s something poetic about going for a birth, a wedding, and a funeral.

Growing up in L.A., I never quite felt Armenian enough. I think every Armenian in the diaspora struggles with the pressures to represent the “perfect” Armenian, because there are so few of us. I hope that through this experience I’m able to shed the feeling of victimization and come to terms with my Armenian American identity. I hope to get a better grasp of the culture and people I’m a part of, and to bring my husband into the fold, too.

To learn more about Jared and Lilit’s project, visit their Kickstarter page. Time is running out, so please contribute today!

Alisa Damaso

Alisa Damaso is an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer based
in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys the magic of the outdoors,
watching campy horror movies, and singing songs about food getting
stuck in her teeth. Her hand is married to a pencil and she never leaves
the house without a sketchbook.

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