The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

No, this isn't some Cold War paranoia fantasy to mark the election of George W Bush - but an announcement of what must be one of the most ambitious DVD projects yet conceived, not to mention one of the most potentially exciting.

For those who aren't convinced that the cinema revolves entirely around Hollywood, the last year or so has offered an embarrassment of riches: already, huge chunks of the output of the Hong Kong and Indian film industries are available to anyone with a DVD player and a sense of adventure - and hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg as more national cinemas wake up to the unprecedented potential of the format.

The Russian Cinema Council has embarked on a massive project to restore 120 films, representing a cross-section of the whole of Russian cinema history - not only covering the vast majority of the films that Western audiences will be familiar with but also a great many films that, for all their qualities, have never been screened outside their native country.

The collection is subdivided into five categories.

Director: 49 DVDs representing the work of the most important Russian directors, including Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Paradjanov, Mikhalkov, Konchalovsky, Shengelaya, Medvedkin and many others - including Akira Kurosawa's Russian co-production Dersu Uzala.

War: Five DVDs about the traumatic Russian experience of World War II, including the much-acclaimed masterpieces Ballad of a Soldier and The Cranes Are Flying.

History: Russian history as seen through fourteen of its films, including Elem Klimov's Rasputin biopic Agony, Alexander Askoldov's The Commissar and Grigori Chukhrai's The Forty-First.

Original Story By: 22 Adaptations of great literature, mostly Russian (Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Turgenev and Tolstoy - including Sergei Bondarchuk's legendary War and Peace) but also Western (Cervantes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Shakespeare- the latter represented by Grigori Kozintsev's riveting Hamlet and King Lear).

Fairy Tales: Russian cinema has always thrived on adaptations of classic fairytales, and this selection of 30 DVDs presents some of the best known titles from the 1940s to the 1980s.

The DVDs have been mastered from the finest available materials, given anamorphic transfers where necessary, and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. All films feature the original Russian soundtrack plus English and French dubs, plus a whole raft of subtitle options (obviously including English). Each disc has a choice of Russian, English or French animated menus - and copious extras will also be included: programme notes, biographies and trailers as a minimum, rare archive footage and interviews where available. To maximise the audience, the discs will not be region coded

The Russian Cinema Council were kind enough to send DVD Times a sampler containing various clips of both films and extras - and both print and transfer quality were very impressive: on this evidence, we're very much talking the Criterion end of the market.

The first DVDs should be out next month, and the Russian Cinema Council will be offering a subscription deal via their website in a few weeks' time - we'll let you know when it contains anything more than their logo, or when we find out alternative sources: the discs will apparently also be distributed in Europe and the US.

And of course DVD Times will be reviewing a cross-section of these DVDs when they appear.

Michael Brooke

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