Stalingrad was Russia’s hope for the Academy Award Nomination this year but did not make it to the shortlist. It is still worth mentioning here because it is Russia's first IMAX 3D feature and will be released here in the U.S. by Sony this February. Its grand scale is epic and indeed it is intended to be today’s epic of Russia in the classic sense of the term. An epic is something that all nations need in order to reconcile with wars which inevitably tear the fabric of society apart so drastically that it takes generations to recover.
The episodes, even though they may be fictional, provide an explanation for some of the circumstances or events in the history of a nation or people, an the action, often in battle, consists of courageous and heroic deeds, often revealing the superhuman strength of the heroes.
The Greek epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the Spanish Song of Roland and others attempted to bring together all the diverse aspects of a society at war and create a work to reconcile the people and forge a new unity. The U.S.’s main war was Vietnam. U.S. has continued to be at war ever since and never has it reconciled the crimes with a national forgiveness and cohesiveness. Director Fedor Bondarchuk and producers Alexander Rodnyansky, Dmitriy Rudovsky, Sergey Melkumov and Natalia Gorina consciously attempt to create a national epic based on this most devastating battle of all time and they deserve recognition for their bravery in doing that.
Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk, produced by Alexander Rodnyansky, Dmitriy Rudovsky, Sergey Melkumov and Natalia Gorina, written by Ilya Tllkin and Sergey Snezhkin, it runs 135 minutes. Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Pictures Releasing International hold all rights with IMAX who has 767 theaters (634 commercial ones in multiplexes, 19 commercial stand alones, and 114 in educational establishments in 54 countries. The first Russian IMAX 3D theater opened in 2003 in Moscow and today, after U.S. and China, it ranks third with 38 theaters that have been opened in Russia and the CIS with 20 more being designed. An interesting side note: IMAX in China is owned by Wanda, the owner of the U.S AMC theater chain, the largest owner of theater chains in the world, perhaps the largest real estate owner, now building a 10,000 square foot studio in China, advised in the U.S. By Koch Hawk, former president of AMPAS who has brought in former New York Film Society Director Rose Kuo to formulate a film festival strategy.
Before the end of 2013 the following IMAX films will be released in Russia; Gravity, Thor: The Dark World, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and others. Stalingrad opened in October 2013 in Russia and the CIS and had blockbuster success. It was the first Russian motion picture released in IMAX format.
During the summer of 2012, Rosskino invited 25 or so U.S. distributors (we helped organize the invitation list and were included in this unforgettable trip to Russia.). There we screened films, met producers and visited St. . On St. Petersburg’s outskirts, in Sapyorniy village, we stopped to visit an unprecedented large scale set of Stalingrad. An amazing recreation of the war-torn city on a dizzly gray day, with German soldiers and Russian soldiers in the doorways of the ruin of an apartment building stunned us. Emily Russo of Zeitgeist and I got our shoes so muddy that Bondcharchuk invited us to wash them in his trailer’s shower.
Here are some pictures we took on the set:
Stalingrad sets the viewers right in the middle of the hardest won battle in World War II, one that turned the tables on the Germans. This movie is based on chapters from the novel by Vasiliy Grossman Life and Fate. The grandeur of the photography is a major accomplishment. The scene of burning Russians charging the Germans is incredibly affecting. The production designer Sergey Ivanov, deserves an Oscar. Arman Yakhin who supervised the visual effects, the first time they shot in stereo and 3D says “it took us about three months to develop and polish fire simulation with Houdini software. In addition to the pyrotechnicians’ work on location, the final version of the film also features a lot of digital fire sequences. Digital models of people were used in the sequences where the burning Red Army soldiers fall down the cliff. They were designed and animated in a 3D editing program, based on actors’ photos.
This extravagant feature brings the audience from the broad, beautiful and frightful battle of Stalingrad to the personal fates of five Russian soldiers, one Russian 19 year old girl surviving in the shell of what once was her home, a German soldier played by Kretschmann and his Russian victimized sexual partner.
It is a striking coincidence that director Fyodor Bondarchuk and the German lead, Thomas Kretschmann have been involved in three Stalingrads. The German Stalingrad was Kretschman’s first role in a film after having fled from the GDR (East Germany). The German Stalingrad was about a group of Germans who froze to death not far from Stalingrad. In 1989, the same year that Kreschmann took part in it, I played a role in a Stalingrad film directed by Yuriy Ozerov, my teacher, as the sniper Zaitsev, “ said Bondarchuk.
This film had a crew of 250 people and 1,000 extras, all approved by Director Bondarchuk himself. The script was original but much documentary material was gathered including many interviews with the few surviving eyewitnesses which might become a separate project. “Stalingrad in 1942 was a place where the average life span was about one day long and the people who managed to survive for a week were considered to be veterans”, said Alexander Rodnyansky, one of the producers.