Ukraine-born actor/director Sergei Bondarchuk was trained for a performing career at the Rostov Theatrical Institute, then applied himself to learning the intricacies of behind-the-camera work at the All Union State Film Institute. His first acting opportunity occured in a special services unit with the Soviet Army during World War II, after which he became a member of the actor's faculty of the Moscow Film Institute. Bondarchuk's initial film role was in The Young Guard (1948), but the first part to win him fame was in 1951's Taras Shevchenko. His subsequent activities have been almost exclusively within the boundaries of the former Soviet Union, though Bondarchuk did appear in Roberto Rossellini's It Was Night in Rome (1960) and directed the Italian-Russian coproduction Waterloo (1970), which he also scripted. For most American filmgoers, Sergei Bondarchuk's fame rests upon his mega-epic, the five-hour-plus 1966 version of War and Peace, which took the director nearly seven years to complete (the Russian release was in two parts, totaling 507 minutes). For this daunting project, which won an American Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Bondarchuk not only directed but played the major role of Pierre Bezukhov. Astonishing for the opulence of its Russian-court scenes and its spectacular battle sequences (one of these running nearly an hour), Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace is compromised only by the clumsy English-language dubbing and the ongoing complaints of animal activists over the disturbing number of horses killed "in the line of duty." Bondarchuk went on to direct several more epics but none of his subsequent films failed to repeat his previous success. His last directorial effort, a TV-minisiries based on Mikhail Sholokhov's Tikhy Don/And Quiet Flows the Don (1992), produced in Italy and filmed in Yugoslavia, did not draw any international attention and couldn't even to make it to Russia because of the foreign-owned copyright. Bondarchuk's widow, actress Irina Skobtseva, desperately fought against the Italian producer of the film, trying to make it available in the director's homeland.