Mikhail Kalatozov studied economics and went through many professions before starting his film career as an actor and, later, as a cinematographer. He directed several documentary films, including his incredible ‘Salt for Svaneti’ (1930).
From 1936, he headed the Georgian film studio, then he was offered a place at the USSR State Committee for Cinematography. In 1939 he moved to Leningrad to work at the Lenfilm studio as a film director.
Kalatozov’s most famous films are: ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ (1957), ‘The Unsent Letter’ (1959), ‘I Am Cuba’ (1964), and ‘The Red Tent’ (1969). ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ was one of the leaders of the 1957 Soviet box office and won several international awards, including Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. ‘The Red Tent’ was a joint Soviet-Italian effort and featured an international team of actors, including Peter Finch, Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, Hardy Krüger, Nikita Mikhalkov and others. It was nominated for the 1972 Golden Globe award as the best English-language foreign film. During the 1990s, ‘I Am Cuba’ was discovered by American film professionals and showed to Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola who became so impressed with the production that they advocated the restoration and distribution of the movie.
Kalatozov was married to Zhanna Valachi, daughter of the Italian Consul. In 1929, Zhanna gave birth to their son Georgi and became a naturalized citizen of the Soviet Union. Georgi followed in his father's footsteps and worked as a cinematographer and film director at the Georgian Film studio, as did Kalatozov’s grandson, Mikhail Kalatozishvili.
Mikhail Kalatozov died in Moscow in 1973 after the seventh heart attack and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery. His grandson founded a non-commercial Mikhail Kalatozov Fund named after his grandfather to help with film preservation and with the funding of new movies.
The Cranes are Flying – 1957
"I Am Cuba"