Russian Ark

film: 2002, 99 min., 35 mm, colour, Dolby Digital
video: 2002, 95 min., HD, 16:9, Dolby Surround

The State Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Bridge Studio
Egoli Tossell Film AG production
Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation
Fora–Film M
Celluloid Dreams

Screenplay: Anatoly Nikiforov
Alexander Sokurov
Director of Photography: Tilman Büttner
Sound: Sergey Moshkov
Vladimir Persov
Production Design: Yelena Zhukova
Natalia Kochergina
Costume Designer: Lidiya Kryukova
Tamara Seferyan
Maria Grishanova
Make-up: Zhanna Rodionova
Lyudmila Kozinets
Editor: Sergey Ivanov
Starring: Sergey Dreiden
also Featuring: Maria Kuznetsova
Mikhail Piotrovsky
David Giorgobiani
Alexander Chaban
Lev Yeliseyev
Oleg Khmelnitsky
Alla Osipenko
Leonid Mozgovoy
Artem Strelnikov
Tamara Kurenkova
Maxim Sergeyev
Natalia Nikulenko
Yelena Rufanova
Yelena Spiridonova
Konstantin Anisimov
Alexey Barabash
Ilya Shakunov

Composer: Sergey Yevtushenko
Music by M. Glinka, P. Chaikovsky, G. Persella, G. Teleman.


Interview with Alexander Sokurov

When did you get the idea of making a one–shot film?

Cinema art has developed as the art of montage - which is, actually, the art of cutting, the art of a knife. However, many filmmakers were seeking the continuity of image, for instance, Alexander Dovzhenko. In my opinion, his experience had an influence on Andrey Tarkovsky. About 15 years ago I was thinking over every detail of a film, which could be a one–shot. But there were no technical possibilities allowing me to make a quality work at that time. Digital camera has given me such a chance. Still, continued shot is only a medium - not the aim, nor the artistic task.

So - it was the idea first, and then - the technical means…


Then what is the artistic task? Perhaps you see it as a reconstruction of the stages of Russian history unified in a one–shot film?

Those are just emotional impressions of my own: reflections of a man, brought up on certain cultural traditions, - reflections on Time, on historical characters. And this is undoubtedly the system of feelings and ideas of a contemporary citizen of my Native Land.

I was curious to know how it was to live inside a work of art - in the Hermitage–museum, an architectural monument, as well as in the Hermitage–the historical residency of the Russian State. Have a try to live inside a piece of jewellery - in a Faberge Easter egg!

How could one manipulate with time here, how could one make it fit to one's own standard?

I see Time in its entirety - the present continuous tense. I have to be inside it, I have to be as integral as this artistic space, as this multiplex yet indivisible architectural ensemble. No close–ups - just one single panorama.

Have you acquired anything new for yourself, for cinema practice as a whole, while working on this project?

I am not able to make revolutions (the more so, as this is not in my nature). I definitely prefer evolution. Besides, how can we talk about innovations in the context of art? What is new, for instance, in the paintings of Kandinsky or Malevich in comparison to the art of Ancient Egypt, or in the works of impressionists, Cezanne compared to Rembrandt?

To my mind, all the definitions of an innovation are nothing but corporate conventionality of art critics. Art is created - actually it was created long ago.

However, every artist chooses his own way to his own target. I personally do not have a right for pure experiment: I am not a millionaire. I make my films with the money either of the state or those people, who trust me. Russian Ark is an absolutely academic work of art. It was well-thought–out and planned a long time ago, but has been brought to life in extremely hard conditions. Therefore we are far from having accomplished everything that was planned.

What did you have to sacrifice and why?

First of all, we had a problem with the image. The cameraman with whom I collaborated on this film had been suggested (due to various circumstances, first of all economical) by the German co–producers, and for me this was a chance encounter. For him, I suspect, I was also an alien problem as a director. The artistic tasks I was giving him were too unusual for him. Tilman Buttner is a strong and hardy man. He was diligently preparing himself for physical work, which was hard indeed: he had to carry on his waist more than 30 kilos. But the spiritual side of this film - the most significant for its artistic result - was not really his field. Perhaps, if we had been shooting the Olympic Games, he would have been in the right place. But we had our complicated artistic aims, and, first and foremost, we were striving to reproduce the architectural volume on the screen. And he remained a steady–cam operator. Generally I think that the practice of photography is dramatically far behind the artistic aims of cinematography. In any case, even having spent an enormous amount of funds and time on the processing of the image, we managed to accomplish only a third of the planned artistic tasks.

As a principal mistake I regard the decision to re–record the soundtrack in Germany. There were no technical reasons for doing that, for we could have done it much better in Russia, at Lenfilm studio with its new perfectly equipped sound stage. But that was a political decision of the German producers, resulting in certain compromises of artistic nature.

Lack of funds has lead to the inevitability of frequent alterations in the script. There were 4000 characters in my initial plan, later we had to reduce this number by half. In the end, as a result of economical difficulties and for safety reasons, only 1000 people played in the film. If it had not been for the State Hermitage, its Director Mikhail Piotrovsky and their deep belief in us, for the support of state cinema organizations and individuals in Russia, for the considerable contribution of the German partners, we would not have made this film.

The 23th of December 2001 or rather those several hours of that day when, after a number of trials, the shooting was made, are considered the film's date of birth. But, perhaps, this is not quite true…

This is not at all true. The movie was not shot on the 23th of December. On that day only the canvas was grounded or, you may say, the breath was taken. Shooting with a camera, however important it might be, is not the chief thing for me. Creation of the image includes certain work with optics, with light. Then we worked on the colour with the help of electronics - the most up-to–date computers. Note that we did not touch the film with scissors. The eventual image is in fact a canvas on which the filmmaker has accomplished his composition by means of colour and light. The sound, soundtrack - gives a new volume to breathing. The work of cinema art is not being shot - it is being composed.

Interview by Alexandra Tuchinskaya
English translation by Anna Shoulgat, © 2002.