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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legendary Documentary Studio Goes Fiction

Alenikov plans to revive the U.S.S.R.’s most renowned documentary studio.

Vladimir Alenikov directed one of most popular Soviet teen movies before going on to teach filmmaking in the United States. Now, he aims to revive a legendary Russian documentary film studio.

Alenikov is now the artistic director of the Central Studio for Documentary Films, a legendary documentary film factory that fell on hard times after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Its travails can be seen in the shabby, rundown former factory building it is now located in and a distinct lack of recent output.

“The studio has a great potential, and I came here to let it bloom,” Alenikov, 62, said in a recent interview.

Founded in 1927, the studio was at one time the Soviet Union’s largest documentary studio, producing 200 films per year. Some of the most renowned Soviet directors such as Eldar Ryazanov, Roman Karmen, Mikhail Romm and Dziga Vertov worked at the studio.

The studio won an Academy Award for best documentary film in 1942 for “Moscow Strikes Back,” about the battle of Moscow. The English commentary was provided by actor Edward G. Robinson.

Indeed, the studio’s web site may be the only site in the world that proudly displays an Academy Award next the Order of the Red Banner and the Lenin prize, which the studio was awarded in 1944 and 1970, respectively.

The Central Studio for Documentary Films initially produced newsreels before, post-World War II, going on to produce a wide variety of films on nature and Soviet technology, such as the Tu-144, and propaganda pieces, such as “The Criminal Course of Zionism,” an anti-Israeli pamphlet.

The studio survives today by working for the state, producing films for the Education and Science Ministry and the government’s anti-drug agency. It is also working with the Russian Orthodox church on a documentary about church history, despite strained relations after the studio had to move out of its building in downtown Moscow when the facilities were handed back to the church in 2004.

But its output has been so low in recent years that many could be forgiven for thinking that it no longer existed.

Alenikov hopes to change the direction of the studio by also shooting feature movies.

“I think the studio can only survive and get up on its feet by making fiction films,” said Alenikov, who is currently finishing his own fiction film, “The Princess War,” a teenage “Romeo and Juliet” story set in Moscow in the turbulent 1990s, at the studio he now heads. The finished film will become the studio’s first fiction film.

Alenikov is best known in Russia for making “The Adventures of Petrov and Vasechkin,” a musical comedy about two school friends made in 1984.

He later moved to the United States, teaching directing at the University of California in Los Angeles before returning to Russia.

He is planning to use his U.S. experience to make low-budget films at the studio. “One of my projects is to make low-budget films, just like in America where a lot of quality low-budget films are produced.”

In 2003, Alenikov made an American film, “The Gun,” a story of an hour and a half in the life of a gun and the people who are trying to get hold of it. The film cost just $50,000 to make but was well-received at festivals around the world.

Still, the studio will not abandon its documentary tradition.

The studio’s latest project is a series of one-minute-long documentary films called “Kroshki,” or “Bits,” using only black-and-white footage. Each film, which draws on the studio’s extensive archives, is dedicated to some part of Russian history, such as the daily life of Soviet women.