HAYTOUG: Can you tell us a little about Fugitive Studios? What exactly does it work on and how did it come about?
ROGER KUPELIAN: Fugitive Studios Entertainment is a production company and Invader Digital Visual Effects is the visual effects arm. They have different mission statements but converge when the time is right.
H: A good segment of the stories and projects you have worked on deal with themes of armed conflict and fighting for freedom. What fundamentally draws you to tell such stories?
R.K.: Just my background. Every country of my childhood ended up mired in civil war or open conflict: Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Ancient and Soviet Armenia etc. Also, the best and worst of people comes out during conflict, which heightens the drama in storytelling. It’s what I have seen and experienced but, thankfully, it has not scarred me beyond what art can’t repair.
H: In 1994, you traveled to the frontlines of the war in Artsakh and documented the story of men and women who put their lives on the line to liberate their homeland. What was that experience like and what drove you to such lengths to document what was going on there?
R.K.: I just needed to see for myself what was going on. It was my last year of college and I sold my film equipment and bought the latest video camera for the trip. My family’s historic experiences had something to do with it too. (One grandpa was a fedayeen and the other a photographer, at the time of the Medz Yeghern). Bottom line, I saw a lot of lip service and very few people actually willing to help. That’s as true today as it was then, by the way.
H: Having spent time directly in the trenches with the freedom fighters of Artsakh, how important would you say it is for the community to stand by the side of our soldiers, whether during times of combat or peace?
R.K.: Very important. They walk our talk. It’s that simple. We complain of all these little silly things and they have dealt with some big things, and it only takes a trip down to that region to see its importance.
H: In your latest project, East of Byzantium, you delve into late antiquity with the historic “Battle of Avarayr” and developments surrounding Armenia’s struggle to survive as the first Christian nation. What are some of the main lessons from this historic battle that stand out to you and what do you think we can draw on as a people today?
R.K.: Always surrounded, but holding our ground. Faith, hope and respect for our ancestors. But more than that, learning from the past to inform the present. Even with all the debates around some of the facts of Avarayr, the basic story of how they persevered against all odds and finally got what they wanted from the Persians (and their countrymen) is crucial. Some feel those stories are more legendary than factual but then again, legends are more valuable to a culture than mere facts that inspire nothing. Legends and Myths are based on facts, and they embody Truths.
H: Where does the East of Byzantium project currently stand? Can you tell us about any recent developments?
R.K.: The first graphic novel, WAR GODS, is rolling out and the project as a whole is involved in the recent Mel Gibson developments.
H: Where can people go to find out more about your work and show their support?
R.K.: They can hit rogerkupelian.com and also like East of Byzantium on Facebook. Also our www.eastofbyzantium.com site is being revamped with addresses of stores that are selling the book.
H: Is there anything you would like to add or speak on regarding your work or this issue’s theme of the freedom fighter that we didn’t address in these questions?
R.K.: Being someone who is ready to sacrifice for the freedom of your own tribe should extend to the freedom of every tribe. I’ve lived in many places around this planet, and the human need for freedom, connection, and self-worth and dignity is a common value. Any jackass can shoot a gun, but a system of values around which you are ready to sacrifice is a lifestyle that builds character. And oh yes, keep your sense of humor.