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Collection Of Tsarist-Era Films Could Contain Some Cinematic Jewels

A still from the classic Russian film "Stenka Razin," which premiered in 1908 and was produced by Aleksandr Drankov.

A still from the classic Russian film "Stenka Razin," which premiered in 1908 and was produced by Aleksandr Drankov.

Cineastes from Russia and elsewhere are licking their lips at the thought of a potential treasure trove of Tsarist-era movies finally being made accessible to the public after many decades.

Russian news agencies have reported that an American businessman has donated more than 350 old Russian movies to a St. Petersburg film studio.

The films were shot before the 1917 October Revolution that brought Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik Party to power. They were later taken out of Russia during the country's civil war.

The movies eventually ended up in the collection of Steven Krams, the president of the American cinema technology firm Magna-Tech Electronic Co.

On September 21 he signed an agreement with Lenfilm that will see him unconditionally hand over these "movie relics" free of charge so that they can be transported to St. Petersburg for proper restoration.

The films will be returned to Russia by the end of 2012. Once they have been fully restored they will be converted into a digital format and prepared for screening.

Although details are still sketchy as to what kind of films are involved, it is hoped that the collection will contain work that is more than just a period curiosity.

The much vaunted auteurs of early Soviet cinema, which had such an influence on Hollywood and presaged the advent of arthouse films, owed a great debt to their Tsarist predecessors, who laid the foundations for Russia's celebrated movie industry.

Between the years 1907 and 1920, thousands of films were produced in the Russian Empire.

Although many of these movies were simply intended as entertaining fairground attractions, pioneers such as Aleksandr Drankov, Yevgeny Bauer, and Yakov Protazanov took a more serious approach to filmmaking and their work marked a crucial phase in the development of narrative cinema.

If the Krams collection contains even some of their groundbreaking output it could be a major boon for cinephiles.

Besides seminal cinematic works, there may also be some movies that are of historical value.

As Drankov's famous footage of the writer Leo Tolstoy illustrates, making films was something of a fad among the upper classes in the latter days of the Russian Empire. Indeed, even Tsar Nicholas himself was said to have made some of these "home movies."

Consequently, if some of these films are found among the collection they could be of immense value to scholars studying that period.

Suffice to say, it's a safe bet that both film buffs and historians will be eagerly awaiting the screening of these movies in the hope that some true gems will be unearthed.

WATCH: Filmmaker Aleksandr Drankov's footage of Leo Tolstoy

-- Coilin O'Connor

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