In July the Polish FIXAFILM studio started the restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s short film “Hakob Hovnatanyan”. In the summer, the British producer Daniel Bird presented to the professional audience a fragment from the restored version of the film. This time Daniel brought to Armenia a completely restored version of “Hakob Hovnatanyan”, so on this occasion we had a meeting and quite an extended conversation.
You need to look back in order to move forward
A few years ago, I met a student who said, “I’m not interested in old films, I’m interested in what’s going on right now”. I assume it’s wrong to treat a movie the way we would deal with fashion. In fact, in order to move forward, you need to look back.
Paradjanov made a technically sophisticated film during the Soviet era. He stepped away from the new approaches to filming for that period and got back to silent movie, to Armenian miniature paintings and manuscripts. Many people would say that Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates ” is made in a unsophisticated way. I do not agree. On the contrary, making a film this way is really difficult.
Contemporary cinema makes me feel bored. For me, cinema has become something like a radio show, a filming illusion. I’m more keen on silent movie, with no dialogues or sound with the author’s creative ideas aimed at enhancing visual representation. In order for modern cinema to develop, we need to study old films and understand where the true values of cinema are.
Collaboration with Polish FIXAFILM
Years ago, I was willing to restore the first films of a Polish director Andrzej Zulawski. It was necessary to find money, and I started working with FIXAFILM Polish company which was also ingaged in Lithuanian films’ restoration. By the way, Lithuania has the same problem as Armenia. Many of the country’s film negatives are preserved in Moscow. Lithuania pays for the access to these negatives, then scans and restores them at FIXAFILM.
Back at that time I got convinced that this Polish company had a better understanding of the film system of former Soviet countries. The company also worked with Ukraine. The process was simplified by the fact that Russian language played the role of a lingua franca. I have acted as a mediator to establish cooperation between the Armenian National Cinema Center and FIXAFILM.
Parajanov’s “Hakob Hovnatanyan” at Fixafilm
“Hakob Hovnatanyan” has been restored for free. I paid for my travel to Armenia, and FIXAFILM did not claim any royalties for the work. The reason for working for no charge is that both me and the Polish side consider it a great honor to be involved in the restoration of “Hakob Hovnatanyan”. It is a project related to Parajanov. It is important to realize that film restoration process is never purely technical; it is a more comprehensive and content-wise process of archival and in-depth research, including working with people engaged in those films.
In July, when a test demo of “Hakob Hovnatanyan” was organized, I heard opinions that often contradicted each other. And I realized that I should make a final decision in the context of all that. A few days ago, I wrote an email to FIXAFILM, informing that we found the magnetic sound of “Hakob Hovnatanyan”. We need to find the money to move it to Warsaw, because this way we can have another version of the film with a better sound. I treat my film with great care and love, as I would treat the ancient manuscripts of Matenadaran. If some day Louvre, for instance, decides to restore Mona Lisa, it’s natural that no competition like – “the one who offers the cheapest option, restores the masterpiece” -will be announced. However, in cinema it is often the case.
Film preservation is even more important than restoration
A film’s restoration and preservation is a synchronized process. For example, if we talk about “Hakob Hovnatanyan”, the sound of the film would be better if we had the magnetic sound from the beginning, while we had the optical phonogram. The material that we had at our disposal could not produce better results. I mean whatever technology we have at our disposal, we cannot get the top quality unless the original is well preserved. It will not be possible to save material even if we use high tech.
First steps to “The Color of Pomegranates”
In 2010, I was contacted by a British company which bought Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranates” from the Russians. After the screening, a discussion on the Internet broke out. People were raving, “What on earth are you showing? This is not the Armenian version!” The person who ordered “The Color of Pomegranates” was very upset upon the Internet’s reaction. He had a concern that negative attitudes would affect the film sales. In fact, they might be selling the version of “The Color of Pomegranate” which was not authentic.
Despite the fact that Youtkevich’s version was the most outspread one, Parajanov himself accepted another version – the one he had created. I knew that the original version of “The Color of Pomegranates ” had gone through a hard way. It was agreed to present the story to the public the way that would exempt Yutkevich’s version from further criticisms. The company, that had bought the film, offered me to sit in front of the camera and present the story.
I have offered another option to the British company. “Pay for my travel, I will go to Moscow, Kyiv, Yerevan, Tbilisi with a small camera and document all the stories about ” The Color of Pomegranates “.
The material I brought upon returning to England was so huge that it exceeded the length of the film itself. Some festivals, including the Golden Apricot, asked to include the accompanying film in their festival programs. On the one hand, it was a simple movie made for just £ 2,000, and on the other hand, from a contentious point of view, it was a very informative film.
Another involvement in “The Color of Pomegranate”
When Martin Scorsese Foundation was restoring “The Color of Pomegranates,” I was invited as a consultant. Though I have little contribution to the restored movie, I am proud to have my name in the credits together with James Steffen. James Stephen is a great expert in Paradjanov in the United States and has defended his doctoral dissertation on Parajanov theme. The Scorsese Foundation was created because they considered that the cinema legacy of the world was endangered.
The Foundation’s activities mainly focus on the restoration of English-language films. Within the framework of the “project within the project”, they created the World Cinema Fund for the restoration of films made in other languages as well. The members of the Fund travel around the world, from India to Africa, choosing the films worth restoring. I heartily welcomed the fact that they decided to restore “The Color of Pomegranate” as an Armenian film.
Olivia and George Harrisons provided money for the restoration of “The Color of Pomegranate “. George Harrison created a Fund headed by his wife, Olivia, to support material values. They support different cultural projects. Martin Scorsese sent Olivia Harrison a copy of “The Color of Pomegranates ” and said, “I think you will like it. The Harrisons approved the idea, and after that, Scorsese offered to cooperate.
The Scorsese Foundation signed a contract, their representatives came to Armenia and the restoration process kicked off. I directed them to meet with the composer Tigran Mansuryan and the production designer Stepan Andranikyan. The Scorsese Foundation is restoring movies at the level which is viewed as the best example for other companies.
Infatuated by Hamo Beknazaryan
Why am I interested in Beknazaryan’s films? Cause I admire his film artistry. Recently, I have watched “Shor and Shorshor”. It’s a comedy movie with fantasy elements. All outstanding directors created both valuable drama and comedy movies. Beknazaryan is one of those directors.
I think the Armenian public is well aware of “Beknazaryan” title, but not of his works.
My dream is to present the high quality versions of his films accompanied by live music. For example, as far as “Shorn and Shorshor” restored version is concerned, good music accompaniment should not indulge to the tastes of narrow cinema professionals only. The film can also be presented to the general public in that format.
P.S. Daniel Byrd has far-reaching plans to restore 10 films by Hamo Beknazaryan. He is also up to making a separate documentary with the out-takes from Parajanov’s “The Color of Pomegranate “, involving those who once chanced to work with Parajanov. This future film is expected to gain a magnificent festival history.
Prepared by R. Bagratunyan
The photo was provided by Zaven Sargsyan