Curated by Olena Honcharuk and Daniel Bird, in collaboration with Cecilia Cenciarelli

For a filmmaker associated primarily with the South Caucasus, Sergei Parajanov made most of his films in Ukraine. After graduating from the All-Union State Film School (VGIK) in Moscow, he became an employee of Dovzhenko Film Studio in Kyiv.
While in later life, Parajanov was prone to rubbishing his filmography up to Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), the four features and three documentaries that preceded it present a very different but no less fascinating director. Not only does this programme provide an opportunity to trace Parajanov’s creative evolution as a filmmaker, but it also reflects the diverse output of Ukraine’s largest studio in the immediate post-Stalin era. It was here, over the course of ten years, that artistic stipulations would give way to the emergence of an informal school of filmmakers, including Parajanov’s collaborators, such as Yurii Illienko and Leonid Osyka, who looked back to Ukrainian cinema of the 1920s, while exemplifying a defiantly poetic, even national sensibility, which influenced the cinemas of non-Russian Soviet republics and beyond.
Although this body of work differs remarkably from Parajanov’s later films, there are indeed some thematically consistent aspects: a predisposition towards folk culture, melodrama and the musical, an aversion to realism and, above all else, a flamboyant sense of style. Premiering at the start of Brezhniev’s tenure, Tini zabutykh predkiv marked the emergence of Parajanov the auteur, but the end of his Ukrainian period. His exit from Ukraine was brought about by the cancellation of what was to be his followup, Kyivs’ki fresky (Kyiv Frescoes). With this work, of which Parajanov filmed only camera tests, the poetic aspect was expanded upon in a formally bold manner. It marks both the beginning of Parajanov’s mature aesthetics, and also the culmination of a ten-year period of creative experimentation, straddling genres, tones and styles.
Bringing together a new restoration, scans from original camera negatives, and rare screenings from 35mm archival prints, on the centenary of his birth, this programme unveils Sergei Parajanov before his creative coming out as cinema’s leading poetic stylist. And it acquires even greater value during this Russian war, when human, territorial and cultural losses are happening beyond reason. Ukraine cannot afford to lose its heritage again. This programme goes beyond its scope, it aims at preserving Parajanov’s art as well as his national and cultural roots. It’s thanks to him that Ukrainian cinema regained international recognition after almost 30 years.

Daniel Bird and Olena Honcharuk

The Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre would like to thank Łukasz Ceranka at Fixafilm, Daniel Bird, the Film Foundation, Cineteca di Bologna and Gaumont-Pathé Archives for their invaluable support with this programme.