Alexander Dovzhenko

Active - 1926 - 1958  |   Born - Sep 12, 1894   |   Died - Nov 25, 1956   |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Alexander Petrovich Dovzhenko stands beside Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin as one of the Soviet Union's greatest early filmmakers, noted for his passionately poetic, serious and extremely personal films. He is best known for the second film in his distinguished "Ukraine Trilogy," Earth (1930) an exquisitely photographed tribute to Nature and Ukranian village life; it is the story of a peasant revolt spawned by the actions of a cruel landowner. The film is still often ranked among the top 10 best films of all time. Dovzhenko was born to an uneducated Cossack worker in Sosnitsa, Ukraine. It was his grandfather, who could only read a little, who encouraged young Dovzhenko to study hard; by the time he was 19 the young man had become a teacher. Because Dovzhenko had a bad heart, he did not serve in the military but continued teaching through WW I and through the revolution. He joined the communist party in the early 1920s and served in Poland as an ambassador's assistant in Warsaw and Berlin until 1923 when he came back to Kiev and began illustrating books and drawing cartoons. Three years later moved to Odessa to work with his new passion--films. He knew very little about how they were made, but was excited by the new medium, which he felt could effectively provide the masses with highly innovative and original art. His first attempt with script writing failed to get produced, but he had success with his second screenplay Vasya the Reformer, which he also co-directed. His first important film was Zvenigora (1928). A tribute to a typical village, it was a rich, lyrical mixture of historical fact, local legend, Soviet propaganda and subtle satire. This film did well in Moscow and established Dovzhenko as a major filmmaker. The following year he began his trilogy with Arsenal, a visual poem filled with exquisite, haunting images of the years leading up to the great revolution. Though Earth became his best-known film, it was not widely accepted by official Soviet critics, who found some of the scenes of death and the realities of life contrary to the ideals of the revolution. They insisted that several of the grittiest scenes be removed. The final film in the series was Ivan (1932). He went on to create a few more films, and then served as a wartime journalist for the Red Army during WW II. Afterward, he began writing, co-writing and producing films at Mosfilm studios. During this time Dovzhenko felt oppressed by the bureaucracy of Stalin's government; he was unable to finish many works in progress because of this interference, and several of his films were never made. The depth of his bitterness can be found in his diaries where he wrote that he felt his life had been wasted; he helmed a mere seven feature films though he worked in the film industry for over 20 years. Following WW II, he began writing novels. In 1956, he died of a heart attack at age 62. Later his wife Yulia Solntseva, who learned filmmaking by assisting her husband, made a few films from his writing, the best being Poem of the Sea, the first in a new Ukranian trilogy Dovzhenko had been planning to make. Dovzhenko was posthumously honored by having the Kiev studio named for him.

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