Realising all of your dreams

An interview with directors Ramin Aryaie and Georjie Adam

Ieva Raudsepa

For the second year in a row, the Daugavgrīva Fortress, a former military base located on an island on the outskirts of Riga, will host Komēta Festival. The three-day-long event, taking place from 7 to 9 July, includes concerts, performances, workshops, and amongst many other things, film screenings. “Dreams Cinema” is a project by directors Ramin Aryaie and Georjie Adam, who were recommended to the organisers of the festival by Vincent Moon, the filmmaker who was in charge of the cinema programme at Komēta last year. met up with Ramin and Georjie two weeks before the event to talk about their practice and what they plan to develop during the event.

Have you worked together before, or is this the first project you’re collaborating on?

Georjie: This is our first opportunity. For a while we’ve been saying that we would like to work together because our work has a very similar energy, but we haven’t yet done a collaboration.

Georjie Adam

Could you tell us a bit more about your work, and what you each do individually?

Ramin: I started photography when I was very young, around twelve years old. It has always been like a natural part of my being, of what I do. Later on I went into photojournalism and discovered what it means to tell stories through photos. I also started discovering film and other media, so my practice moved a bit in the direction of art. Then came this idea of combining journalism and art in order to not have a very dry journalistic approach – to find a space in-between [both fields]...using tools from art to tell take people on a journey. Both Georjie and I are very much interested in this kind of an approach.

Georjie: Exactly like Ramin, I also came across the dilemma with the type of work where documentary and journalistic projects are being done in a very certain way and there’s not much room for change. Like, for documentaries you have your standard pan shot, and it’s a lot about rules and the structure you follow. There are so many incredible opportunities in telling a story. Each case is different; you can tell it in very different ways, and by combining the artistic side of filming and photography you can create an immersive experience. I remember this one time I watched a documentary that was done in a very artistic way. I remember it scene by scene – it impacted me that much. By telling a story that way, you make it more human, you make it more emotional, and that’s the kind of journalism that I try to do. I work with a lot of NGOs, and I try to tell their story in a more artistic kind of form. When Ramin and I met, we just had the same idea, and that was pretty cool.

Ramin Aryaie 

Ramin, you have the website Voiiage, which tells stories about different journeys and adventures; the content is open for everyone to see.

Ramin: I started it when I was travelling in New Zealand. I didn’t study [at university], but instead I was very clear about what I wanted to do, and what was missing for that was a project. I was meeting a lot of people who had lots of creative energy and ideas of what they wanted to do, but didn’t have a place to publish it. So I had the idea to make this platform myself, open it up to everybody and see where it goes. I started it about three and a half years ago, and since then I’ve just continued to add content to it. During this time it has been like a full time job for me to work on the website. It began as something very journalistic – I was telling travel stories. But recently it’s been developing more into an art direction with more abstract series, and going a bit deeper – beyond words. I try to combine and fuse all of these different ways of telling a story, and try to not be restricted by only one medium. By mixing different things like poetry, film, and photography, I think you get something that is more representative of the way you experience real life. Voiiage is becoming this very “artsy” project, so we’re also starting something new that is more on the journalistic side.

Can you tell a bit more about the new project?

Georjie: This thing we were talking about – mixing journalism with art, we wanted to make a platform for that where people could see very unbiased and personal stories from around the world, and also to work in unreported places where you have beautiful cultures doing beautiful things but they’re not being represented. We’ve travelled to a lot of sites off of the beaten track and come across some really amazing stories, so that’s what we want to show on this platform which will be called the Liva Collective. “Liva” in Fijian means “lightning”, and that really resonates, because that is how our partnership came together – through Fiji. Also, “lightning” meaning this new wave of journalism, which we feel really needs to come, especially with politics at the moment and the media being very focused on the elite.

Ramin: One thing that really describes it is that media nowadays works a lot with simplifications so the whole world is really reduced to very similar narratives. This is good, this is evil, this happened because of this – there are always one or two reasons that make up what is the truth. While, actually, life is so complex – we’re aiming to represent that.

Georjie Adam

You already mentioned that one of your aims is to speak about people who are not being talked about much. The work you've done has often been concerned with tribal cultures. Why do you think it is important for people who live in a Western culture to get to know more about these societies?

Georjie: The thing that struck me when I first started to live in Fijian villages was the incredible simplicity. What that meant was that people were so undisrupted from the most important things, and their connection to nature was very strong. It really introduced me to a way of life that I knew I had kind of been missing but didn’t know where to find. This brings you back to these really basic human desires for shelter, food, and, amazingly, also for art. I’ve seen this in so many places. Even in the poorest and most unfair places I've been to, people made art there. By seeing that simple way of life do so much and how that works within a society, it shaped my perspective once I went back into Western culture. You can really implement those ways of life by just spending time in nature or being less reliant on things like plastic and technology – going back to those basic areas of ourselves. When you go into more tribal or post-tribal societies, these things are still there and they are very rooted in their way of life. This can teach us a lot about ourselves as human beings, because those places also aren’t without their flaws. They certainly have their faults, even though they’re often made to be very idealistic. But they’re humans like us, and just like our society, they also have their shortcomings. We can learn from them and share that story.

Ramin: I would even go a step forward and, like, say that the Western world is reaching a point where neoliberalism is at its limits and people are realising that it’s not the promised land. There’s a big need for alternative ways of structuring a community and living in it. In my view, these societies have that knowledge; they have what has been lost in the Western countries and what is now being searched for. I think we can learn a lot in the future from these people while leaving out the flaws. There are definitely faults that have been overcome in the West. So if it would be possible to combine the two, it could bring back an ancient way of living as a community and as individuals together, anew.

TRAILER / BLACK MAGIC BABY JESUS. This slow trans-media journey takes you into the enchanted jungles of Vanuatu’s secluded islands. It tells the story of people that have always lived in harmony with mother nature. But nowadays life is changing. Presented by VOIIAGE.ORG

But then, for example, there are also people in New York who do ayahuasca ceremonies in their Brooklyn apartments. This seems a bit like cherry picking – choosing certain aspects from a culture to appropriate for specific needs whilst ignoring others.

Georjie: You’re definitely right, but I feel there is a really big difference between what we’re talking about and that, which is cultural appropriation. I think we’re mainly talking about principles rather than events, things or ceremonies, which are unique to each culture. We’re talking more about the perspective rather than extracting a particular ceremony or outfit – that is something of a problem in our society. It is presented as exotic; cultures are being put on a platform to make a product out of them, which is horrendous.

Ramin: That is, again, the neoliberal spectrum. It’s about the product and consumption. 

Georjie: That’s really the wrong way to go about it, while it’s being painted as the “right” way. I think that you can also just walk a couple of blocks and find a story. There is this saying “be the voice”. I hate that, it should be “give them the microphone”. The whole thing about being the voice for someone, as if they can’t talk for themselves, that is what I really don’t like. We are like the vessel, we are telling their story but they are the ones displaying it. The media can be incredible and it can be incredibly manipulative – it has the power to really sway how someone could feel about something. So you have a lot of responsibility when you’re telling or recording someone’s story; [it has to be done] in a way that dignifies them and that is the way they want it to be told.

Ramin: Then we go to the next problem of journalists not having enough time and money to properly explore each place and research it. You have so little time and need to do so much [that it’s not feasible]. We’re trying to move away from that and spend enough time in each place to really get to know it, to actually live with the people and to become part of the community, and then tell the story from that position.

© Georjie

Georjie: I really see that in natural disaster response. Journalists will go in as the natural disasters have just happened, they’ll find people in front of their broken homes and record them tearful in their devastation. If they would stay a couple of weeks longer, they would see that those people pick up their debris and they build up their lives again. People are actually so much stronger than the media paints them to be, and to see that is just a matter of staying with the culture and understanding them.

You went to Daugavgrīva Fortress yesterday. What are your first impressions of the location where the Komēta Festival will take place?

Georjie: I actually got here a day before Ramin. The only way I could describe it to him was that there are no words. It’s just so incredible. The impact you get from seeing it, the overwhelming history, and even more so, the passion, energy and activism that are going into the event is amazing. When you think that it used to be a military base and that it was used for something very much in contrast to what it is now – that’s such a beautiful transformation. The whole energy and love being put into it is very overwhelming. I can say for both of us that we’re very excited to have that as a canvas; there’s very much opportunity there.

Ramin: It’s really more perfect than anything I could have dreamed of for the project.

“Dreams Cinema” by Ramin Aryaie and Georjie Adam at Komēta Festival

You probably don’t want to reveal too much, but maybe you could say a bit more about what you are preparing for the festival.

Ramin: It’s called Dreams, and it’s a big umbrella project for a lot of different things potentially – films and other forms of art. I’ve been working on it for three years now and it was recorded on four continents while I was travelling. The main idea is to go beyond words and very sober representations of the world, to go beyond the surface. Lots of experiences for me come from meditation, silence, being in nature, being on trips, and going deeper within myself and then from that point – experiencing reality, and also going to other realities. That’s a source, and I’m trying to visualise that. I’m going into abstraction where nature becomes just about the forms and movements; I’m trying to represent the beauty that is everywhere around us everyday. For this task, I’ve left the tools open to dig into this place and, basically, to go into a journey within myself and outside [of it]. That’s kind of the main approach for the project.

Georjie: For example, we have a lot of footage of nature. The patterns that nature creates are incredible. Those are things that we often pass by, but if you look closely, there are loops and circles, and so many natural things that can make an amazing visual experience. So, it’s also about being a platform that allows nature to do its thing. I was just saying this to Ramin the other day, that particularly with mountains, the shapes and amazing patterns you can see within are also represented in cultures which are thousands of years old. They were already onto it, and saw these intricate details that we’ve kind of become very detached from. You don’t have to do much to find it, you just have to pay a little bit more attention.

Ramin: I was connected to Dāvis [Kaņepe] through our mutual friend Vincent Moon, who did the cinema screenings here last year. I'm working on a project in Morocco together with him and it’s very similar – it’s about the same topic but with a different approach. He has been filming traditional music and rituals around the world for a few years, and we started doing it together. With him, the approach is to join ancient cultures and observe their ways of connecting to the invisible and to the spirits. If you look at all of the ancient cultures around the world, so many of them have very similar rituals and ways of connecting to god or nature and the spirits. I think this is something that is getting lost in mainstream culture, and now it is time that people start to re-discover it again. For me, the work that I do with him and the project I’m working on now come together – it’s kind of all about exploring ancient wisdoms that have always been there, but only recently they’ve been lost. I think that’s spiritual healing – that’s where people can heal, where you can become better; and from there, you can go on and live life to the fullest and realise all of your dreams.