Filmmaking in Russia and the Soviet Union has a long, dramatic history.

While most films seen in Russia between the 1890s and World War I were imported from European countries, a distinctive Soviet style emerged soon after the establishment of Communist rule.

Developed by such brilliant avant-gardists as Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, this style was based on the notion that cinema's power lies not in its ability to create convincing images of the real world, but rather in the way it reorders that world through film editing, or montage.

Director and theorist Lev Kuleshov is said to have confirmed this idea by intercutting shots of an actor's face with separately filmed scenes of highly emotional events; audience members read their own emotions into the actor's blank expression and praised the brilliance of his performance.

Such fervent experimentation came to an end in the late 1920s. Impressed by cinema's power to influence public thought, newly installed dictator Joseph Stalin insisted that ideologically driven ''socialist realism'' was the only acceptable style for the state-run film industry.

Hobbled by this repressive policy, Soviet studios produced few important works until Nikita Khrushchev loosened government's reins in the 1950s, whereupon such expressive films as ''Ballad of a Soldier'' and ''A Summer to Remember'' renewed the reputation of Soviet film with moviegoers in the United States and elsewhere.

This trend continued in the '60s and '70s, as pictures like Sergei Bondarchuk's massive ''War and Peace'' and Andrei Tarkovsky's poetic ''Andrei Rublev'' made a strong impact on critics and audiences.

Major films also emerged from newly adventurous artists in non-Russian parts of the Soviet Union, such as Georgian director Sergei Paradjanov, whose work has received international honors.

Some of today's most popular Russian filmmakers -- including Nikita Mikhalkov, whose ''Burnt by the Sun'' just won an Academy Award for best foreign-language film -- began their careers in the pre-glasnost period and gained new momentum when Mikhail Gorbachev's liberating policies opened still more opportunities.

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