Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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Russian director Sokurov shoots monumental film in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum
December 23, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Renowned Russian director Alexander Sokurov turned his camera on the Hermitage on Sunday, shooting a film on the museum's 300-year history in a single, 90-minute take.

``It's a movie as if in one breath,'' Sokurov said.

The maker of cult movies about Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler said the film, titled ``The Russian Ark,'' was meant to be a unique ``art form that combines stage play, documentary, and musical moments'' shot in one place at one time.

``I have a great desire to create this form,'' Sokurov said. ``It's not a universal way of shooting, but it's so challenging.''

The Russian Ark project required more than six months of rehearsals with 1,000 actors, dlrs 2.5 million in investment, and 13,000 costumes.

It also required enormous strength from Tilman Buttner, Germany's premiere steadicam specialist, to carry 35 kilograms (77 pounds)of camera equipment non-stop while shooting the action on the 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) route through 35 Hermitage halls.

The Hermitage, housed in the former Winter Palace, has 350 rooms. It is one of the surviving glories of imperial Russia, built when St. Petersburg was the ``window looking out on Europe'' as envisioned by the city's founder, Peter the Great.

In the film, the main character, French aristocrat Marquis de Custine, played by Sergei Dreiden, takes spectators on a fantastic journey inside the palace from the beginning of the 18th century to modern times.

He encounters characters from different eras of Hermitage and St. Petersburg history, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Czar Nicholas I. The Winter Palace is shown during the 1941-44 siege of Leningrad, as the city was known in Soviet times.

The film also portrays the dynasty of museum directors, including the present director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, who plays himself in the movie.

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