Sergei Parajanov Biography

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Parajanov by Mikhail Vartanov.

Known affectionately as the “magician of cinema,” Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1924. As a child, Parajanov studied various artistic disciplines such as ballet, singing, violin, and eventually film. In 1947, Parajanov was arrested on charges of homosexual acts with a KGB officer and was imprisoned in Siberia for four years. He would be arrested another two times during the course of his life.

In 1951, he graduated from the world’s oldest film school, Moscow’s All-Union State Institute of Cinematography. By 1965, he released his first cinematic masterpiece, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, based on the book by the Ukrainian author Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. Parajanov garnered international acclaim for his accurate depiction of Ukrainian Hutsul culture and dress. He was subsequently blacklisted by Soviet authorities for this movie as well as for his support of Ukrainian nationalism and dissidence.

 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Following the success of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Parajanov returned to his ancestral homeland in Armenia to direct a movie about the eighteenth century Georgian-Armenian poet, Sayat-Nova. Although the resulting film, Sayat-Nova (1969; better known as The Color of Pomegranates), received international recognition, it was heavily edited by Soviet censors. Every project following The Color of Pomegranates was rejected by Soviet movie studios.

 In 1973, Parajanov was arrested and imprisoned in a Siberian gulag on falsified charges of homosexuality and bribery. In reality, it was his surrealist work and criticisms of the Soviet film industry that contributed to his being targeted. Contemporaries such as Pasolini, Truffaut, and Antonioni called for his release, but to no avail. However, in 1977, the French-Communist poet Louis Aragon successfully petitioned Brezhnev for Parajanov’s release.

Parajanov collage, title unknown.

Upon being released, Parajanov moved back to his hometown, Tbilisi, where he worked primarily on collages and visual arts. In 1984, he released his first film in fifteen years, The Legend of Suram Fortress, which reimagined a well-known Georgian folktale. Parajanov died of lung cancer only a couple years after the film’s release, at the age of 66.

He is widely believed to have been bisexual. His son, Suren, more or less confirmed his sexuality in a 2015 interview with the Ukrainian magazine Gordon. To this day, Parajanov’s body of work is celebrated for its seamless incorporation of surrealism and Georgian, Ukrainian, and Armenian folk art. Parajanov’s influence can even be found in Lady Gaga’s recent “911” music video, which is a four-and-a-half minute long recreation of The Color of Pomegranates. Gaga’s nod to Parajanov is only one of the many put forth by contemporary artists.