Russian avant-garde director Alexandr Sokurov has won worldwide praise for his influential independent films, and is considered by many to be one of the most important contemporary art house directors. He is known for making impressionistic, experimental films that often have no plot and don’t use professional actors.
After graduating with a BA in History from Nizhny Novgorod University in 1974, Sokurov attended VGIK, a prestigious film school located in Moscow. While at school, he made a number of short movies and befriended famous Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. After leaving VGIK in 1979, he began working in television production and documentaries.
It was while Sokurov was employed at Lenfilm, one of the largest film studios in Russia, that he directed his debut film, The Lonely Human Voice (1987). The Lonely Human Voice was actually made in 1979, but like much of Sokurov’s early work, the film was censored by Soviet authorities for containing a suspected anti-government message.
Mournful Insensibility, also made in 1987, was a critical (if not commercial) hit on the Russian art house scene. The film was loosely based on A Heartbreak House by Bernard Shaw, combining dreamlike imagery with real life footage.
Sokurov's films started earning many international awards after the collapse of the USSR. The 1996 film Mother and Son was the first to gain him widespread recognition outside Russia. In the late 1990’s he directed a trilogy of films based on the most powerful political leaders of the 20th century. Moloch (1999) was a look at Hitler, Telets (2001) focused on Lenin, and Solntse (2005) showed Japanese emperor Hirohito.
In 2002 he directed Russian Ark, a semi-documentary that took place in one fluid 96 minute shot inside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Sokurov’s directed Aleksandra in 2007, an observational film following an elderly woman traveling by train to visit her grandson in an army camp inside Chechnya.