Parajanov was born on the January 9, 1924, in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR, to an ethnic Armenian family. His father was Iosif Parajanian and his mother was Siranush Bejanian. In 1945 Parajanov traveled to Moscow and entered the directing department at VGIK, one of the oldest and most highly respected film schools in Europe, and studied under director Igor Savchenko and later Aleksandr Dovzhenko in Kiev, Ukraine. Parajanov moved to Kiev, where after a few documentaries (Dumka (1957), Zolotye ruki (1957), Natalya Ushviy (1957)) and several narrative films (Andriesh (1954), Ukrainskaya rapsodiya (1961), Tsvetok na kamne (1962)) he created the magnificent “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”, which won countless international awards, including the British Academy Award. The success of “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” was compared to that of the super influential Battleship Potemkin (1925); however, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” didn’t conform to the standards of Soviet cinema and Parajanov was immediately blacklisted.
He left for Armenia to film the documentary Hakob Hovnatanyan (1967), and then in 1968 he created “Sayat Nova”, his masterpiece. “Sayat Nova” was banned by Soviet authorities, re-edited and re-named “The Color of Pomegranate”. In December of 1973, the Soviet government arrested Parajanov and sentenced him to five years in hard labor camps. A large group of world-famous artists, filmmakers and activists protested and Parajanov was released, but only after having served four horrific years in the Soviet penal system. Poet Louis Aragon’s petition to the Soviet government was instrumental in securing Parajanov’s release.
Parajanov returned to Tbilisi, but the regime continued to keep him away from cinema. During and after prison Paradjanov created extraordinary collages, drawings and numerous other art works, now frequently exhibited worldwide. In 1984, however, political conditions started to change and, with the help of Georgian intellectuals, the government allowed Parajanov to create the multi-award winning Ambavi Suramis tsikhitsa (1984) – 15 long years after “Sayat Nova”.
In 1986 Parajanov made yet another multi-award winning film, Ashug-Karibi (1988), based on a tale by Mikhail Lermontov, and dedicated the film to his friend Andrei Tarkovsky. His stay in prison had crushed his health, however, and he passed away in July of 1990, leaving his final masterpiece “The Confession” unfinished. It survives in its original negative in Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992) by his closest friend Mikhail Vartanov.
Parajanov’s friends and and colleagues such as Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi, Alberto Moravia, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni and Bernardo Bertolucci were among those who grieved his death, yet today Sergei Parajanov remains not very widely known. Few who saw “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” or “Color of Pomegranate” have not been forever influenced by the unseen beauty created by the genius.