Vartanov...brother in arts... You possess everything an artist needs - mind, kindness, principles, freedom.
Create... Perhaps, you're the only friend, who compels me to live....
-- Sergei Paradjanov, 1974
Mikhail Vartanov (1937-2009) developed a method of documentary filmmaking termed the 'direction of undirected action' and his
work as a documentarian, cinematographer, and essayist became revered through such timeless films as The Color of Land (1969), Seasons (1975),
The Last Spring (1992), and a series of essays including The Unmailed Letters. He remains little known outside the small circle of intellectuals and his followers.
Mikhail Vartanov dedicated his life to defending and supporting Sergei Parajanov. It culminated with the
influential masterwork Paradjanov: The Last Spring (1992), which caused a sensation at its premieres in Russia and Armenia,
and the individual chapters and text of the film inspired numerous future documentaries, books and writings on Parajanov.
Mikhail Vartanov recognized Paradjanov's genius in 1964, after watching at Moscow's film institute Parajanov's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,
and the test footage of the Kiev Frescoes, which was filmed by Vartanov's VGIK classmate Aleksander Antipenko.
Mikhail Vartanov met Sergei Parajanov in 1967 in Armenia, and shared his thoughts about the screenplay of Sayat Nova (The Color of Pomegranates).
Paradjanov was impressed and they became close friends until the end.
Parajanov considered Vartanov's candidacy for the cinematographer of Sayat Nova, but due to the delays with the start of the shooting,
and the Armenfilm Studios desperate need to fulfill its plans of documentary film production, Vartanov was assigned to complete several
of the studio's troubled documentaries. The cinematographer of Sayat Nova became the great Suren Shakhbazyan who came from Ukraine, and
had also earlier lensed Sergei Parajanov's Andriesh. Paradjanov and Shakhbazyan together at work appear in Vartanov's The Color of Armenian Land,
the beginning of his trademark style "direction of undirected action."
This documentary, a silent commentary of gestures by painter Martiros Saryan, also featured Mikhail Vartanov's friends - the dissident artists
Minas Avetisyan and Sergei Parajanov, for which the film was censored and suppressed; Avetisyan was assassinated and Parajanov was imprisoned shortly after.
Vartanov's next film, The Autumn Pastoral, written by Artavazd Peleshian and scored by composer Tigran Mansurian, was shelved.
After the premiere of Sayat Nova, Mikhail Vartanov wrote: "To me, it seems that the cinema of Sergei Paradjanov began not with the Shadows
of Forgotten Ancestors, as many think, but with (Sayat Nova) the Color of Pomegranates. Probably, besides the film language suggested by
Griffith and Eisenstein, the world cinema has not discovered anything revolutionarily new until the Color of Pomegranates,
not counting the generally unaccepted language of the Andalusian Dog by Bunuel."
After Sergei Parajanov was arrested in Kiev in 1973, Mikhail Vartanov immediately protested to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine
and petitioned for Parajanov's release. Vartanov's letter has only recently been declassified by the former KGB, a further proof
that it was that document in support of Parajanov that prompted the intensified harassment that Vartanov endured and his subsequent
firing from the Armenfilm Studios, 4 months after Parajanov's imprisonment.
From the prison, Parajanov wrote to Vartanov: "The thought of seeing and embracing you gives me the strength to live…
your duty of a friend and brother you have long fulfilled…" Vartanov replied: "When I think of you there, I don't want to live…I see around me
only meaninglessness …" Later, Vartanov said at screenings and interviews that he felt he had fulfilled his duty to Parajanov only after
completing Paradjanov: The Last Spring, this phrase too has been repeated word for word by others.
Parajanov, in another letter to Vartanov wrote: "You and your purity are colliding with circumstances and predators… That's life."
Indeed, many open and secret suppressors of Parajanov then focused on Vartanov, having recognized the opportunity
to advance their personal interests and careers by attacking the free thinkers and marginalizing them.
Later, after Parajanov was set free, and it was no longer dangerous to associate with him, they rushed to become his friends,
and having little or no understanding of his unique contribution to the arts, frequently turned to Vartanov's writings,
interviews, banned screenplays, and picked up his thoughts during personal meetings, to write and make films about Parajanov.
It had become a tradition to silence Mikhail Vartanov, first to score points with the regime, and later to avoid competition.
In a letter to Parajanov in prison, Vartanov wrote, quoting his favorite poet Boris Pasternak, that "time will come and the power of
meanness and malice would be overcome by the spirit of kindness." Parajanov responded to Vartanov: "Dear Misha, I received your amazing letter...
Never have you been more accurate in evaluating the surrounding world...in expressing yourself..."
COLOR OF ARMENIAN LAND (1968)
AUTUMN PASTORAL (1971)
AND SO EVERY DAY (1972)
KAJARAN (1974) fired
cinematographer SEASONS OF THE YEAR (1975)
cinematographer WILLIAM SAROYAN (1977)
cinematographer THE MULBERRY TREE (1979)
OUR ALEXAN (1985)
HE CREATES HOMELAND (1985)
ERASED FACES (1987)
IN THIS STONE IS MY SOUL (1989)
MINAS: A REQUIEM (1989)
PARAJANOV: THE LAST SPRING (1992)
VARTANOV CHRONOLOGY (1937-2009)
Born on February 21 in Grozny, Russia, Soviet Union
Becomes the youngest professional photographer in town, also works as a movie projectionist.
Graduates the world's oldest film school, VGIK, in Moscow. Artavazd Peleshian and Mikhail Vartanov befriend at VGIK.
Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov become friends in Armenia. Vartanov directs The Color of Armenian Land, Autumn Pastoral,
And So Every Day, and coins the term "direction of undirected action."
Composer Tigran Mansurian and Vartanov work together and become friends.
Fired from Armenfilm Studios four months after Sergei Paradjanov's imprisonment. After his friends Artavazd Peleshian
and Gennadi Melkonian passionately petition the Moscow and Yerevan authorities to allow Vartanov to work,
he collaborates with them on two classics: The Seasons of the Year (1975) and the Mulberry Tree (1979).
His other friend, the painter Minas Avetisian, is assassinated.
Oscar-winning American author William Saroyan nicknames Vartanov "the eyemo-man" after early 20th century movie camera Eyemo.
Publishes his essays on art and cinema, including in French, in Cahiers du Cinema. Teaches art, cinema and photography at
the university in Armenia. Makes his first film in a decade as a director, The Roots, after all
filmmakers at Armenfilm Studios refuse to direct it finding the subject unfilmable. Celebrates the Old Russian New Year with Sergei Paradjanov and Andrei Tarkovsky.
Directs the documentary trilogy Erased Faces (1987), Minas: A Requiem (1989), Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992).
Meets Tonino Guerra who praises the latter.
Receives the Russian Academy of Cinema Arts Award in Moscow for Parajanov: The Last Spring
and after screenings in Europe and Canada arrives to United States for the American premiere
at the National Art Gallery in Washington DC. A private screening for poet Allen Ginsberg
organized by Jonas Mekas at the Anthology Film Archives marks the film's New York premiere.
Receives the Golden Gate Award from the oldest American film festival, the San Francisco International.
Moves to Hollywood, California.
Turns his home into a studio/art gallery and experiments with photography, video,
collages, drawings, assemblages, painting, and writing.
At the invitation of the American Film Institute, makes the first public appearance in almost a decade to present
Paradjanov's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors during the Los Angeles Exhibition of Russian Cinema.
Receives the Golden Palm Award at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Visits Armenia, receives an avalanche of TV, newspaper, magazine coverage, but ignored by all cultural
authorities of whom many are his former suppressors or their apathetic sympathizers.
Member of the jury at the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
Member of the jury at the Navarra International Documentary Film Festival,
responsible for presenting Spain's first annual Jean Vigo Award.
The Spanish and French premieres of Parajanov: The Last Spring are attended by Luce Vigo, Marina Tarkovsky,
Aleksandr Gordon, Jean-Marie Carzou and actress Sofiko Chiaureli (Sayat Nova).
Works on his book about Sergei Paradjanov, and edits the documentary on the painter Evo (unfinished).
Passes away on New Year's Eve.
Laid to rest on January 9, 2010, Sergei Parajanov's birthday.
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