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The "Russian Ark" project of the State Hermitage and Alexander Sokurov

On 23 December 2001 the State Hermitage became the setting for the shooting in a unique manner of a feature film. It began at 1.50 p.m. at the Hermitage Theatre gate with a command from the director Alexander Sokurov. For ninety minutes the camera ran without stopping, moving from the modest rooms of Peter the Great, to the stage and auditorium of the Hermitage Theatre and on to the magnificent halls of the New and Small Hermitages, the Hanging Garden, the Apollo, St George and Armorial Halls, the Malachite Room, the Nicholas Hall and many other state rooms of the Winter Palace, finally being switched off at the exit through the Jordan Entrance. This uninterrupted panorama of the Hermitage rooms presented three centuries of Russian history, from the foundation of St Petersburg to the present day.

The picture tells about the State Hermitage, one of the world's largest museums, which reflects the dramatic fate of St Petersburg and of Europe as a whole. The contents of the film do not fit into a single neat narrative line. It embraces events spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The rooms came alive with episodes from the lives of the Russian rulers, court balls and ambassadorial receptions. We see famous visitors to the museum and its directors - the academicians Iosif Orbeli and Boris Piotrovsky (father of the present director).

The latest technology and extreme professionalism of those involved in the project combined to make possible the realization of Sokurov's bold conception. Many of the museum staff, first and foremost the curators of collections, ensured a high standard of historical authenticity. An inestimable contribution to the artistic side of the project was made by the superb musicians of the Mariinsky Theatre who were participating in the shoot together with their artistic director and chief conductor Valery Gergiev. The historical scenes featured members of the State Hermitage Orchestra, the St Petersburg Camerata. The project was realized by the Hermitage Bridge studio in conjunction with the Berlin-based company Egoli Tossel Film AG, with the participation of Fora-Film M (Moscow) and AST (St Petersburg) and the support of the Ministries of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Federal Republic of Germany and ARTE television channel. The preparations and filming involved 800 actors, 75 musicians, over 1,000 dancers and the orchestras of the Mariinsky Theatre and the State Hermitage. The camera travelled a total distance of 1500 metres.

Everything was set up and ready by 12 noon on 23 December and shooting began. Three times the camera crew had to return to the starting point - the entrance to the little courtyard of Peter the Great's Winter Palace. Only at the fourth attempt, at 1.50 p.m., when time was becoming critically limited on the shortest day of the year, did the shooting continue through to a successful conclusion. The command "Stop!" was pronounced at roughly 3.18 p.m.

The film had its international premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2001. The Russian premiere opened the programme of the tenth festival of Russian films "A Window to Europe" in Vyborg on 9 August 2002.


The film-director Alexander Sokurov
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Actors rehearsing the ball scene
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Rehearsing the ball scene in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace
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Members of the cast and crew on the Jordan Staircase
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Rehearsing in the Field Marshals' Hall
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A moment from rehearsals in the Small Throne Room
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Preparing to shoot in the Rubens hall
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The last minute of shooting
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The film-director Alexander Sokurov and Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky at a press-conference
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