Ninth Encounter
Cinémathèque Transversal
with Veronika Zhuravleva, Vigen Barkhudaryan and friends

Sunday June 12th, 2022
11AM (EST) Screening/Assembling Begins

Dear Friends,

We want to wish everyone well in this month of June.

We begin with a question:

Can an artist, now passed, hand on questions and possibilities which can both help us discern the challenges of comprehending not only our time, including the Russian military invasion of Ukraine today, but also sensing the enormity of all that we inherit as histories, told and untold, all the forces, the political imperatives from above and the queer, minorized tangents from below which can eternally disrupt the homogenizing and flattening operations of empires?

"There are no books or journals dealing with those times. Since everyone is silent and it may all be forgotten. Or an enthusiast will write about it drawing on the archives.

My personal archive contains 3 prison sentences. A court convicted me of being a surrealist seeing the social structure as a chimera. As if I was a chimera perched on top of Notre Dame, with a huge snout and massive hooves looking over the city of Paris. I was such a chimera who looked out and envied the coming of a new day.

My ninth film was Shadow of Our Forgotten Ancestors. That's when I found my real theme:
The problems faced by a people.

I focused on ethnography, god, love and tragedy. That's what literature and film are to me. After I made this film, tragedy struck. I was an Armenian in the Ukraine dealing with Ukrainian issues. I was awarded 23 gold medals for this film. I was known and recognized in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians loved me. My wife was Ukrainian. My son was Ukrainian. But this was not liked by certain circles. I was arrested and imprisoned for five years. A harsh sentence.

When the officials saw the film, they understood it broke the film of Socialist Realism and the social rubbish that ruled our cinematography. But it was too late: Kotsyubinsky had a jubilee.It was his centenary. The film was released. They could ban it later on.

They asked me to make a Russian version. The film was not only shot in the Ukrainian language, but was also in the Gutsul dialect. They asked me to dub the film in Russian. But I turned them down categorically." 

On December 17. 1973 Sergei Parajanov was arrested on charges of homosexuality.

"They invented currency operations, the stealing of Ukrainian icons, Ukrainian nationalism. What they did to me was outrageous. They pressed charges on 18 counts against me, and all collapsed.

Only 'homosexuality' remained. All my friends were insulted, they were dragged to the medical table.  Great people: cameraman, Suren Shahbazyan. my friends, Misha Gritsuk. everyone was laid on the table to determine whether I raped them or not. Do you understand what a tragedy occurred?"

This week's assembling has been in the making for some months. It started as some brief exchanges with Alisa Lozhkina about people who she know to have studied Parajanov's work and experiences in the Ukraine.

As part of the fruits of those correspondences, we are excited to be joined this week by Veronika Zhuravleva, Vigen Barkhudaryan and hopefully other friends to discuss and think through this moment, relying not on news or even first hand accounts but rather the traces and stories of a queer decolonial trans-communal dissident-communist artist Sergei Parajanov.

Since the beginning of this Summit-in-Acts, with friends, we have been attempting to think through the invasion of Ukraine in relation to the multiple wars in our midst. In these lines of inquiry and thinking, a few of us began searching for different historical threads which could unravel simplistic discussions of whatever is called our present. Among those threads was the life, work, struggles and aiffmations of Parajanov, an Armenian artist, filmmaker born in Tbilisi, Georgia, who lived and produced for many years in the Ukraine becoming a critical part of its artistic communities as well as political imaginaries.

We hope you will be able to join us for the conversation.

Parajanov Films

As a continuation of our Cinémathèque Transversal, we will screen the 15 minute fragment/short Kiev Frescoes at the start of the assembly.

Though it is not required to watch the films in advance of our encounter Sunday, we do hope you will find a moment to watch them. They may be even more interesting, after our discussion.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

Triptych (Kivski Freski, Hakob Hovnatanyan, Pirosmaniszvili) 1966-85*

(In the middle of this posthumously assembled triptych is Kiev Frescoes. It is among the works that remain only as fragments. It is a film, as described in this reassembling, about contemporary life in Kyiv and the legacy of World War II as seen through the eyes of an artist. The film production was halted, it obviously refused to fit or fulfill what was expected of Soviet film of the time. This type of censorship would not stop Parajanov's continued experimentation with a queer historiographic ethnographic poetic politically potent film form. Even if never 'realized,' Kiev Frescoes can be seen as a bridge between Shadows... and what is considered by many as another of his great works, quite possibly also in the history of cinema:

The Color of Pomegranates (1968)

After his release from prison, he would would continue to build the force of his decolonial and trans-communal visions in what forms with the Sayat Nova film a trilogy with The Legend of the Suram Fortress (1985) and Ashik Kerib (1988). All of which deserve further viewing, co-imagining and study.