Much has happened in Armenia — and much of it troubling — since the documentary I Am Not Alone was filmed during the 2018 revolution and subsequently premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. But System of a Down’s Serj Tankian is confident that Garin Hovannisian film’s triumphal tone holds up as it opens wide on Sept. 17 via Virtual Cinema.
I Am Not Alone chronicles the independence movement led by politician, activist and journalist Nikol Pashinyan, who fought against a third-term election of president Serzh Sargsyan that would have given Sargsyan unlimited and dictatorial powers in the country. Pashinyan set out on a 14-day march, accompanied by supporters (and a stray dog), to the capital of Yerevan, where he was briefly imprisoned. After nearly a month of protests, Sargsyan resigned peacefully, and two weeks later Pashinyan was elected prime minister. “It really depends on the viewer,” Tankian — who co-executive produced and scored the film — says about watching it now. “An international viewer not privy to domestic Armenian politics will see the film exactly as it should be when it was shot, and the lessons that were learned from it. Most people will experience for what it is, which is an incredible piece of documentarian footage of a very unique, peaceful revolution on the other side of the world.”
Subsequently, however, Armenia has been rocked by more conflict, including war with and continuing hostilities with neighboring Azerbaijan. Unfortunately eclipsed by the global coronavirus pandemic and other issues, it places I Am Not Alone in a somewhat different context for the enlightened.
“If you’re talking to a person of Armenian descent who’s been involved in the fallout of the war and the divisiveness brought on thereafter in the Armenian domestic world, then (the film) will be a different kind of experience,” Tankian acknowledges. “I think it’s very painful for Armenians. We just had a traumatic experience of dictatorial regimes attacking us in the middle of COVID and the world not coming to help once again. It was very reminiscent of the (World War I) genocide. So, yes, (the film) hasn’t changed, but there’s more to the story now.”
I Am Not Alone, which won a dozen awards during its festival run, will be available on Virtual Cinema, accessible via the film’s website. Tankian’s score will also be released in conjunction with the film. “It’s probably the most positive music I had written at that time…and I’m not known for happy music, to say the least. But because I was there in Armenia during the tail end of the revolution I got to experience the elation in people’s eyes as they changed the trajectory for the country. So there is this musical elevation that comes from that time and my excitement of what that all meant.”
The soundtrack is not the only music Tankian has put out this year. He released an EP, Elasticity, back in March, along with a piano concerto, two live albums with his band the FCC, a pair of Cinematique Series sets and a recorded poetry collection called Cool Gardens Poetry Suite after his 2001 poetry book. He has another “electro rock EP” on the runway and is working on scores for another Hovannisian documentary and for two streaming docu-series slated to come out next year. And he’s getting ready to hit the road again with System of a Down with October dates in Las Vegas, Fresno, Oakland and Los Angeles, which will also give the band a chance to finally play its 2020 singles “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz” — the group’s first new releases in 15 years — for live audiences.
“We’re excited about playing those songs live — and it’s gonna be hard, to be honest,” Tankian says of the tracks, both inspired by the conflicts in Armenia and the friendly breakaway Republic of Artsakh. “It’s just so emotional, still, for us and for a lot of Armenians because we’re still dealing with the injustice of the war and the war crimes committed and the devastation of it. It’s like a catharsis. But I’m very proud of what the band achieved in terms of getting those two songs out and helping to spread the message of what’s really going on there.”
As for losing Faith No More from the dates while frontman Mike Patton confronts mental health issues, Tankian is supportive. “That’s really sad,” he notes. “Mike is a friend of mine and I’ve reached out to him and his manager. I just hope he’s OK. I love him dearly. I know he’s influenced so many artists and bands, including ours. It would’ve been great to play together, but the important thing is health and the important thing is everyone’s OK, and we can always find time to play together again.”