On March 31, 2018, the former journalist and then sitting member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan announced via Facebook Live that he was beginning a 14-day protest march. Dubbed “My Step,” the action aimed to prevent the election of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister. Pashinyan started in Gyumri and continued through neighboring cities and towns Vanadzor, Dilijan, Hrazdan, and Abovyan before finally arriving in Yerevan to hold the first rally of the Armenian revolution.
The chain of events that followed was quite remarkable. Now — not much more than a year later — we can see the whole story of the revolution from the inside courtesy of Gavin Hovannisian‘s powerful and moving documentary I Am Not Alone. While there was no telling what might come of Pashinyan’s initial intentions, Hovannisian was there on the ground floor, tracking the activist on foot as he gleaned supporters along the way.
But the film is not a down and dirty vérité depiction of revolution. Much like Evgeny Afineevsky’s 2015 documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which takes an immensely complex situation and efficiently makes it understandable through entertainingly cinematic means, I Am Not Alone takes pains to make sure we not only know what exactly is happening at any given moment but also why.
Hovannisian employs a number of documentary tools and perspectives. A ground crew viscerally captures the one-man protest as it transitions into an uprising. Recurring drone shots cover a God’s-eye-view of the action. There are traditional reflective post-revolution interviews with all of the critical folks from both sides, including Pashinyan himself, as well as, most remarkably, Sargsyan and others from his regime. Occasional flourishes of animation help map out where events are taking place. And most intimately, the film shares clips culled directly from Pashinyan’s frequent Facebook Live broadcasts that constantly update us on just how many people are involved in the revolution.
While throwing in everything but the kitchen sink can result in a stylistically muddled work, I Am Not Alone feels remarkably cohesive, and this is mostly due to the urgent, propulsive editing by Barry Poltermann (who has cut Chris Smith’s docs going back to American Movie). As Pashinyan makes abundantly clear when he runs into traffic to lay in front of a bus while streaming instructions on Facebook Live for his comrades to follow suit: when in the midst of revolution, there is no time to think; action must come first. And in this film, there is plenty of action.
Yet, even with mass protesters clashing with police and disrupting public transit across the capital in hopes of putting pressure on the Armenian government to cut Sargsyan loose, the amazing thing about Pashinyan’s self-declared Velvet Revolution is it concludes in utter political success without the employment of weaponized force. Though there were minor injuries in skirmishes in the streets, as evidenced by Pashinyan’s bloodied face at one point, not a single bullet was fired, and no one died during the conflict.
At the center of it all is Pashinyan, the undeniable catalyst, agitator, spirit, and star of the Armenian Revolution — and in turn of I Am Not Alone. On the strength of Pashinyan’s personality alone, the film would be a compelling watch, but thanks to its impressively detailed outlining of how one man riled an entire nation into revolution over the course of just a few weeks, Hovannisian’s doc (a runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival) is one of narrative skill, historical import and hopeful pride for the future of his country.