Hiro Narita, ASC, recently returned from Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was an honored guest, lecturer and juror at the Golden Eye International Festival of Cameramen. He was one of four jurors who selected winners in four categories: feature film, television, student project and “best risk” — the latter variously interpreted as a shot that is spectacular or took “incredible guts” to accomplish.
This year’s nominated films gave the festival a broader geographic reach than in years past, though there were no entries from the United States. The prizewinners came from Czech Republic, Portugal and Austria. The winner in the feature-film category was Jerzy Palacz, for Shirley. Martin Žiaran took home the grand prize, the Golden Eye, which is awarded at the jury’s discretion, for Hany.
In addition to his jury duty, Hiro conducted a master class about the ways in which cinematographers must re-educate themselves in order to adapt to new technologies. “Cinematographers are constantly working side by side with new tools, and our attitude toward them has an important impact on our ability to use them for visual expression,” he says. To illustrate his points, he showed clips from older films featuring optical effects, and slowly moved through the progression to CGI. His audience was predominantly professional Georgian cinematographers and other camera crew.
On a more personal level, Hiro took advantage of the opportunity to point to Georgian films that had an outsized impact on him when he was young. In the 1960s, as a young graphic designer and recent graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, he was seeing many films. He remembers seeing Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and The Color of Pomegranates for the first time. It was around that time that his ambitions turned to cinematography.
“Cinematography in Georgia is a really fantastic tradition,” says Hiro. “Georgian films influenced so many European filmmakers in the 1960s and ‘70s. But when I visited the festival a couple of years ago, I got the impression that this past is almost forgotten in Georgia, so this year, I made my presentation a kind of tribute. I think the young filmmakers, especially, probably have no idea what it was like there in the 1960s.”
During Hiro’s visit this year, he learned that there was a small statue of Parajanov in an old quarter of the city. He sought it out. “Finding this statue was the highlight of this trip. We jurors had been given a book about Sofiko Chiaureli, the main actress in The Color of Pomegranates. To the Georgians, she is like Greta Garbo and Anna Magnani put together. So, with the statue of Parajanov behind me, I posed for a photograph holding the book. While I was looking for the statue, a salesperson in a gift shop mentioned there was a statue of Sofiko about 200 feet away. I took a photo there as well. It was an incredible coincidence.”
Another Parajanov connection that gave Hiro great pleasure was discovering a location used in The Color of Pomegranates. On a guided tour, he and other festival guests were shown the distinctive rooftop of a restored bathhouse. The tour guide did not mention the film, but Hiro thought the setting looked familiar. Upon asking the guide, who just happened to be a film buff, Hiro confirmed that it was indeed a location that appears in Parajanov’s film.
Hiro wonders if Parajanov’s legacy has been diminished for political reasons. In the late 1960s, Parajanov was under house arrest, and he later went to prison. A group of filmmakers, including Tarkovsky, Fellini, Truffaut, Godard, Buñuel and Antonioni, wrote letters to Soviet authorities on his behalf, but to no avail. After serving four years of his five-year sentence, Parajanov was released, thanks to a chance encounter between Leonid Brezhnev and married poets Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet at the Bolshoi Theatre. The story goes that when Brezhnev asked if he could be of any assistance to the couple, Aragon requested Parajanov’s release.
For Hiro, the visit to Tbilisi, Parajanov’s artistic home, was a way of coming full circle to what first drew him to filmmaking.
“Those formative memories have a strong effect on you when something pops up to remind you,” he says. “In my talk, I used my favorite quote from Antonioni, who said filmmakers have ‘this habit of keeping one eye open to the inside and one eye open to the outside. At a certain moment, these two visions approach each other, and like two images that come into focus, they are superimposed.’ That’s where personal expression is born. I thought this was a good idea to communicate to the students and other filmmakers at the festival.”