Descendants embrace doc that uses restored footage

Descendants of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy gathered last week, nearly a century after his death, at his Russian country estate to see restored film footage charting the last two years of the novelist’s life.

“Leo Tolstoy: Genius Alive” draws upon more than an hour of rare film footage that has sat in Russian archives for 100 years.

The footage chronicles the writer’s activities and his death at a provincial railway station in 1910.

Recent advances in film restoration techniques and software allows speech to be discerned from silent film where people can be seen speaking, promising to reveal hitherto unknown secrets of Tolstoy’s final years.

Doc was produced and directed by St. Petersburg-based Andrey Deryabin in association with the Russian state film archives and German film equipment manufacturer Arri.

“The project is like archeology,” Deryabin says. “We dig into the treasures with the most modern and careful tools to find unexpected detail, beauty and truth. It is the least risky project possible — production was completed 100 years ago, and the star of the film is Leo Tolstoy.”

With more than 140 of Tolstoy’s descendants present Aug. 18 for the screening at his Yasnaya Polyana estate, 110 miles south of Moscow, it was the first chance for the producers to gauge a wide family reaction to the film.

“The project is very important to the family,” says Vladimir Tolstoy, the writer’s great-great grandson and director of the museum and estate at Yasnaya Polyana. “Feature films (such as Michael Hoffman’s) ‘The Last Station’ will age and may look dated. The original material that is absolutely true and factual, brought to the wide audience, will remain a great reminder that Leo Tolstoy was a real person who lived not so long ago if you really think about it.”

U.S.-based Randy Gosda, who is married to Swedish-born Margaret Tolstoy, told Deryabin he didn’t know such film existed. “I am very excited about the project ,” he said.

Plans to release the film in time for the 100th anniversary of the writer’s death in November have been delayed a year to allow more time to complete the restoration and for marketing.

Deryabin says the producers, who include Sergey Selyanov of St. Peterburg’s CTB and Roza Orynbasarova of Silk Way Cinema Studio, hope the film will be ready for a Cannes screening in 2011 followed by a release in November 2011 through a network of more than 600 digital cinemas in Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Deryabin added that he hopes to be able to involve the members of the family in the premiere screenings close to where they live around the world.

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