THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee [ANEC])
Birth of Sergei Parajanov (January 9, 1924)
"Everyone knows that I have three Motherlands. I was born in Georgia, worked in Ukraine and I’m going to die in Armenia," declared Sergei Parajanov, one of the most talented names of Soviet cinematography. Despite running afoul of censorship and repression, his original cinematic style made significant contributions to Ukrainian, Armenian, and Georgian cinema.
Parajanov was born in Tiflis, capital of Georgia, to Iosif Parajanov and Siranush Bejanova. At the age of 21, he traveled to Moscow (1945), enrolled in the directing department of VGIK (the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography), the oldest film school in Europe, and studied under directors Igor Savchenko and Aleksandr Dovzhenko.
In 1948 he was convicted of homosexual acts and sentenced to five years in prison, but was released under an amnesty after three months. In video interviews, friends and relatives contested the truthfulness of the charges. In 1950 he married his first wife, Nigyar Kerimova, from a Muslim Tatar family, in Moscow. She converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to marry him, and was murdered by her relatives because of her conversion a year later. After her murder, he left Russia for Kiev (Ukraine), where he produced three documentaries and several narrative films. He married his second wife, Svetlana Sherbatiuk, in 1956. Their son Suren was born in 1958 and they divorced in 1962.
In 1964 Parajanov abandoned socialist realism (the state-sanctioned art style in the Soviet Union) and directed Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a poetic film over which he had complete creative control. He would later dismiss all films he had directed before 1964 as “garbage.” This film won numerous international awards and turned him into a cult director.
He later left Kiev and moved to Armenia. He filmed Sayat Nova in 1968, choosing the life of the famous eighteenth-century Armenian troubadour as the apparent subject, but the film was immediately banned. He re-edited his footage and renamed the film The Color of Pomegranates. The film won much praise internationally and increased his popularity as a venerated director.
His projects were systematically banned or scraped between 1965 and 1973 because of charges of deviation from accepted artistic norms, until Parajanov was sentenced to five years in a hard labor camp in Siberia on charges of homosexuality and pornography in December 1973. Many international artists protested on behalf of the filmmaker without effect, including Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Françoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Andrei Tarkovsky, and others. He obtained an early release in December 1977.
After his return from prison to Tbilisi, he could not pursue his career. He was imprisoned again in February 1982 on charges of bribery and freed nine months later, although his health was seriously compromised after the harsh conditions of the Siberian camp.
After his release, the support of Georgian intellectuals allowed him to produce his last two films, which received critical and public acclaim: The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984) and Ashik Kerib (1988). He moved back to Armenia, where he started a project that would remain unfinished: his final film, The Confession. Its original film footage was assembled and released as Parajanov: The Last Spring, by his close friend Mikhail Vartanov in 1992.
Sergei Parajanov passed away on July 20, 1990, in Yerevan, a victim of cancer, at the age of 66. He left a legacy of sixteen films (feature and documentary), and ten unproduced screenplays and projects, including films on the Armenian legend of Ara the Beautiful and the Armenian epic David of Sassoun.