WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In March 2018, longtime Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan started his live-streamed march from Gyumri, the country’s second-largest city, to the capital Yerevan to prevent the reelection by the parliament of Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan was about to assume his third term as prime minister, which would further extend his ten-year reign as de facto leader of the country. “I Am Not Alone” documents the growth of Pashinyan’s grassroots efforts into a full-fledged “velvet revolution,” which led to the peaceful transfer of power. The film is a concise, but cohesive chronology of the events of 2018, with testaments from Pashinyan and his supporters, as well as Sargsyan and members of his government.
WHO MADE IT: Writer/director Garin Hovannisian is an Armenian-American, for whom “I Am Not Alone” is his first solo project, as well as debut documentary feature. Hovannisian has previously co-directed and co-wrote a fictional account of the Armenian Genocide, “1915”, which also served as his first collaboration with Serj Tankian, frontman of System of a Down, and one of the world’s most famous Armenians. Tankian co-produced “I Am Not Alone,” and recorded along with Hovannisian’s wife Larisa, an English-language version of the revolution’s hymn, “My Step,” with the original lyrics penned by Pashinyan himself. Everyone featured in the film had a part to play in the revolution, whether in an official capacity or by participating in the grassroots efforts. Pashinyan’s kids are featured, too, as well as his wife Anna Hakobyan, who was a prominent leader of the uprising. And the film wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t feature Chalo, the legendary stray dog who walked along with the marchers, appeared on the protest rally stages and has since come to live with the Pashinyans.
WHY DO WE CARE: In the never-ending era of hawkish imperialism, reminders on how democratic revolutions are drastically different from military coup d’etats are priceless. Hovanissian’s film, much like the Armenian revolutionary movement itself, is structured around the blossoming of one man’s resolve into change. Thankfully, though, it doesn’t limit itself to Pashinyan’s narrative and shows some nuances: for instance, the impressive women-led civil disobedience by noise and the student walkout. However, “I Am Not Alone” could benefit from featuring some third party points of view. As it is, it seems like the film only features interviews by people either formerly or currently occupying government positions—except for the Pashinyan household and the blessedly neutral American ambassador. All these suits in cabinets make the story stiffen up a bit, especially in contrast to Pashinyan’s norm-core facade, which was part of his success as a relatable leader. Of course, it’s important to point out that, like any other political documentary, it is a film that evolves and adapts along with the flow of time. For instance, there have been recent developments in the relationship between Pashinyan and Valery Osipyan, which provides the film with an exciting plotline of nonpartisan solidarity. And Pashinyan himself has been coming under fire for his neoliberal approach to taxation, as well as Armenian nationalism. None the less, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the momentum pictured in the film and the need for the documentary’s broad circulation.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Stories about peaceful revolutions and bloodless transfers of power are rare but always inspiring, and “I Am Not Alone” is a valuable rundown of the events that transformed Armenia and gave many other nations hope. Nikol Pashinyan is a magnetic figure, whose incomparable ability to think on his feet was part of the reason for the whole endeavor’s success. It’s captivating to watch him make crucial decisions, which in retrospect appear to be pivotal to the later victory, and to wonder: how do we get a leader like that for ourselves? But because the film provides a tribune for Sargsyan and members of his parliament to justify their own positions to a certain extent, it becomes apparent that there was also serendipity in the way the government abdicated without overt resistance. Therefore, it becomes debatable whether citizens of other nations can indeed learn something practical from the Armenians, or whether we should stay envious of this small country because its political karma is at the moment at its highest. Either way, “I Am Not Alone” is a film to watch. An invigorating, thoughtful, and masterfully arranged portrait of a man and the movement around him, it shows that being closer to the masses than the establishment can do wonders for a political campaign. Solid in its dedication to Pashinyan as a sort of folksy hero, it is also an ode to the beauty of organizing. And we as a society can always use more of these right now.
I Am Not Alone, 2019
Director: Garin Hovannisian
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