Exorcising Shadows

in 80th Venice International Film Festival

by Andriy Alferov

In this special commemorative article, Andriy Alferov details the premiere of the restoration of Sergei Parajanov’s now legendary film. He underlines the journey the film has taken against a backdrop of oppression, as well as the process and people involved that made this celebration finally possible.   

A breakthrough almost sixty years later: The program of the 80th Venice International Festival (in the “Venice Classics” section) showed Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) by Sergei Parajanov. This was the premiere of the restored version of the film, which we produced together with producer Alexander Rodnyansky. What prevented Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors from being included in Mostra’s program in the mid-1960s was the excessive conservatism of then Ukrainian SSR, whose leadership was hostile to both the eccentric Parajanov and his sophisticated masterpiece of poetic cinema. This was due to their general incomprehensibility and Parajanov’s excessive brightness in an era that preferred grey. Parajanov, having gone through the seven circles of his hell, would end up in Venice only in 1988, with his Georgian film Ashik Kerib. Finally, Shadows… reached the Venice Film Festival in 2023, updated with significant restoration of image and sound. Special thanks go to all Ukrainian specialists and our British colleague Daniel Bird, who prepared the copy for the Venice premiere, where we presented it with Alexander Rodnyansky and Larisa Kadochnikova, the star of the film, who at 86-years-old has taken a long and difficult journey across half of Europe to reach the festival audience. In the Venice Classics (Restored Films) program, Parajanov with his Shadows… masterpiece has finally found himself among his own, in the circle of equally living and departed classics and their directors: Orson Welles and Joseph Losey, Agnès Varda and Terrence Malick, Luchino Visconti and Francis Coppola.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors represents the keys to the back door of Ukraine. Thanks to his special sense of the ‘Ukrainian’, Sergei Parajanov, an Armenian born in Tbilisi, created a national quarry code, displaying it in his film adaptation of Kotsyubinsky’s story (the author of the novel). Shadows… does not simply appeal to the sight or hearing of the Western viewer, but finds in them an ally of Parajanov’s poetic thought; the film thinks in terms of texture, color, pattern, rhythm, nature, sound, composition of the story told and the frame. This film is actually in color, not just painted on. The color in it ‘thinks’ and calls on the viewer to think, turning directly to the artist in it – the viewer. This Venice premiere is all the more important because it happened during a monstrous war, when cinema seems like something of secondary importance. Therefore, gratitude goes to everyone who helped carry it out, not least Alberto Barbera, who responded to our proposal. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors in Venice is just the beginning of a series of events that is planned for the 100th anniversary of Sergei Parajanov, which will formally be celebrated in January 2024. But, since in reality Sergei Parajanov was born in the autumn of 1923 (but was only registered in January 1924), the showing of his masterpiece in Venice can be considered the unofficial beginning of the celebration of his anniversary. However, it needs to be added here that restoration is an ongoing process. What was screened is not the completed restoration but a graded scan of a newly discovered copy. It is the first step towards a new restoration in collaboration with our international partners.

Andriy Alferov
Edited by Steven Yates