Before there was the New Queer Cinema movement, there was Sergei Parajanov, pictured at right, a Georgian-born Armenian screenwriter and director who was openly bisexual and suffered artistically and personally at the hands of the Soviets. Born in 1924 and living until 1990, he made tremendous contributions to Ukrainian, Armenian and Georgia cinema.
Parajanov had a queer gaze in his films, one that focused intensely on the male actors and where his appreciation for beauty found cinematic expression and success on the art house circuit. He made his own rules for story-telling, employed static camerawork allowing scenes to unfold at natural pacing and jumpy editing. His most famous works are "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors", "The Legend of Suram Fortress", "The Color of Pomegranites" and "Ashik Kerib".
A new Ukrainian film based on his life that's been making the rounds on the festival circuit, using one of many variations on his surname titled "Paradjanov" was submitted as that country's entry for a best Oscar in the foreign language category, according to the Los Angeles Times story yesterday about the 76 films submitted for consideration.
"Paradjanov" is far from a complete compendium of all the major events in the director's life. Indeed, in what almost amounts to a case of willful poetic irony, the filmmaker's two marriages and his son are barely suggested, though his run-ins with the Communist authorities because of his "suspected" homosexuality are documented in quite some detail (he would eventually be sentenced to five years in prison).
Good to know the queer aspect of his life and work is not glossed over, and the trailer for the film does not shy away from the queerness.
Given the hostile laws and attitudes prevalent in the Ukraine against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, not to mention the hatred of the Orthodox Church, I am surprised the Ukrainian film establishment enter "Paradjanov" as their country's Oscar-hopeful because I believe the establishment is dependent upon government support and politicians have influence over the film industry.
On the other hand, since Parajanov is a firmly established in the international cinema pantheon of great filmmakers and enjoys a well-deserved reputation as an artist of a multitude of talents the Ukrainians may think the submission honors one of their own so well they are willing to overlook his homosexuality and convictions.
Western LGBT activists may recall the terrible public bashing received in May of 2012 by Ukrainian gay leader Svyatoslav Sheremet, pictured on the ground, that was recorded by the media as he and other LGBT people attempted to stage Pride March. The bashing didn't thwart Sheremet and other activists to hit the streets again this year with positive results, according to a Truthout story last month:
While being gay in Ukraine is no picnic and the entire region is a hotbed of homophobia, modest advances in the country have been made - advances that are now on the line.
In May, Ukraine held its first ever Pride march, an event Olena Semenova, one of the organizers, stated would "go down in the history of Ukraine as one of the key developments in the fight for equal rights." Although the March originally was canceled by court order, campaigners chose to push ahead anyway. As in Russia, ultra-Orthodox protesters attempted to disturb the campaigners, yet, unlike in Russia, the Ukrainian police held back the zealots.
Let's hope "Parajanov" gets U.S. distribution or makes the rounds of domestic film festival and we're given a chance to see it. At the same time, I'd like to see Parajanov's film shown at festival sidebars or our remaining art houses and film archives.