Sergei Paradjanov was born on the 9th of January, 1924, to an Armenian couple, Joseph Paradjanov and Siranush Bejanova, in Tiflis, now Tbilisi, Georgia. In 1942 Sergei Paradjanov enrolled at the Institute of Railway Transport. However, he soon left to pursue an artistic path at the Tbilisi Music and Arts Conservatory. In 1945, after studying dance and music, Paradjanov was admitted onto the Film Directing course at VGIK (the All-Union State Cinematography Institute in Moscow). Under the creative guidance of Igor Savchenko and Alexander Dovzhenko, Paradjanov made his first film A Moldovian Tale in 1952. A year earlier, he had married Nigyar Serayeva, a beautiful Tatar girl, who tragically died that same year. She was thrown under a train by her relatives for having married outside of her religion.
After successfully graduating from VGIK, the young filmmaker was sent to Ukraine, to work at the Dovzhenko Film Studios. There he directed several short films and documentaries. In 1955 Paradjanov married Svetlana Shcherbatiuk, his muse. Although their marriage lasted no more than six years, during that time, Svetlana gave birth to Paradjanov’s only son, Suren, born in 1958.
Paradjanov’s earlier films made at the Dovzhenko Film Studios are all marked by the aesthetics of Socialist Realism, and would come to be dismissed by the director as ‘rubbish’. The turning point in his career came with the making of the masterpiece Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964). The film rapidly rose to fame, winning a number of prestigious film awards at international film festivals. Paradjanov’s next masterpiece The Color of Pomegranates conveys the life of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova through lyrical, poetic, and beautifully constructed imagery, stripped of plot and character dialogue. The film's opening passage from Sayat Nova's own writings: "I am the man whose life and soul are torture", resonates through the film.
Paradjanov’s flamboyant personality and lifestyle, as well as his unorthodox approach to filmmaking, was not at all favoured by the Soviet officials. In December 1973 Sergei Paradjanov was arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to five years in prison. The years spent in the Soviet labour camps were the darkest times of Paradjanov’s life. Nevertheless, his creative spirit wasn’t stifled; on the contrary, it found a most vibrant means of expression through drawings, collages and writing. He wrote more than twenty film scripts. After numerous attempts by many world famous artists and intellectuals to intervene on his behalf, Paradjanov was finally released by the Soviet authorities. Nevertheless, he remained blacklisted by Soviet officials and it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that he could resume his career.
Despite rapidly ailing health, Paradjanov directed The legend of Suram Fortress (1984) and Ashik Kerib (1988) to huge international acclaim. His last film Ashik Kerib, based on Lermontov’s story, was dedicated to the memory of his close friend and revered filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky. Sergei Paradjanov suffered the same fate as Tarkovsky; he died of lung cancer, four years later on July 21th 1990. Sergei Paradjanov was buried at the Pantheon cemetery in Yerevan. Since Paradjanov’s death he has received a number of state awards. In 1991 the Sergei Paradjanov Museum was opened in Yerevan. In 1993 a memorial plaque at Paradjanov’s flat was mounted in Kiev. In 1997 a monument to the filmmaker was unveiled at the Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kiev. In 2004 a monument was unveiled in Tbilisi. Ironically, Paradjanov’s flat in his beloved Tbilisi was destroyed. “A prophet is not without honour except in his native place and in his own house…”