The Nevsky Wall

Reference  -  Lenfilm Studios / Newsreels

Lenfilm Studios

Lenfilm logo

St. Petersburg was home to several Russian and French film studios since the early 1900s. In 1908 the St. Petersburg businessman Vladislav Karpinsky opened his film factory “Ominum Film” which produced documentaries and feature films for local theaters. During the 1910s, one of the most active private film studios was “Neptune” in St. Petersburg, where such figures as Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lily Brik made their first silent films in 1917 and 1918. The composer Peter Tchaikovsky came to what was then the Aquarium theater (and is now Stage # 4 of Lenfilm) as a guest to the 1893 performance of the overture to “The Nutcracker”. Famous Russian bass singer Feodor Chaliapin performed here in the 1910s and the early 1920s.

With the revolution, the facilities and land of the Leningrad film studio were nationalized in 1918 and it was established as a Soviet State-funded film industry. Within just a few years it bore several different names, such as “Petrograd Cinema Committee” and “SevZapKino” among various others. At that time many notable filmmakers, writers, and actors were active at the studio, such as Yevgeni Zamyatin, Grigori Kozintsev, Iosif Kheifets, Sergei Eisenstein, Sergei Yutkevich, Dmitri Shostakovich, Nikolai Akimov, Yuri Tynyanov, Veniamin Kaverin, and Viktor Shklovsky, as well as many other figures of Russian and Soviet culture.

Cinema is the most important of all the arts for us. – Lenin
Chapaev Movie Poster
‘Chapaev’ Movie Poster

Y. B. Zheymo

Actress Y. B. Zheymo, a major Lenfilm star in the 30’s and 40’s

In 1934 the studio was named Lenfilm. During the Soviet era Lenfilm was the second largest (after Mosfilm) production branch of the Soviet film industry, which incorporated more than 30 film studios located across the former Soviet Union.

It had its heyday in 1930s, creating films that are a part of the golden age of Soviet cinema, such as Counterplan, directed by F. M. Ermler and S. I. Yutkevich in 1932, Chapaev directed by the Brothers Vasilyev in 1934, the Maxim Trilogy films directed by G. M. Kozintsev and L. Z. Trauberg in 1935-39, and Baltic Deputy and Cabinet Minister, both directed by Heifits and Zarkhi in 1937 and 1939, respectively.

During World War II, a few cameramen remained active in the besieged Leningrad making documentaries about the heroic fight against the Nazis. At the same time, most studio personnel and production units were evacuated to cities in Central Asia such as Alma-Ata and Samarkand, where they were merged with other Soviet film studios. Lenfilm personnel began their return to Leningrad in 1944.

Leningrad Newsreel/Documentary Studios

The first wartime newsreel appeared in theaters on June 25, 1941, just three days after the German invasion. After that, newsreels were released every three days. This was possible because of the long tradition of Soviet documentary film. During the war, thousands of cameramen risked their lives to shoot over 10 million feet of film, giving us a vivid picture of this monumental struggle. The main newsreel operations were headquartered in Moscow, but members of the Leningrad Newsreel Studio distinguished themselves by remaining in the besieged city to document the day-to-day fight for survival.

Notable were filmmakers such as Efim Uchitel, who shot over 50 films for newsreels and special news shows, and Roman Karmen, who developed his newsreel style in the trenches of the Spanish Civil War, and who would go on to a long and colorful career as the most famous Soviet documentary filmmaker (or, as some less flatteringly would put it, the Russian Leni Riefenstahl). Karmen and Mikhail Slutskii also collaborated on the documentary Our Moscow, about the preparations to defend the capital.

Earlier, the newsreel studio sent cameramen with the troops in the Winter War against Finland. As with most government newsreel operations, the raw footage was always edited for maximum propaganda value and didn’t necessarily reflect the conditions on the ground. Scenes were recreated or even manufactured wholesale. This is certainly not peculiar to Soviet newsreels – you can find the same manipulation in newsreels from any country. We included some raw, unedited footage to give you a sense of the stark reality within Leningrad during that first year of the siege.

Raw Siege Footage: Leningrad Newsreel Studio (click to play)Problem retrieving videos from provider: Gone

Winter War Footage (edited; English subtitles):
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Roman Karmen’s documentary on the Spanish Civil War (Italian subtitles):
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