How ‘Stalingrad’ Director Fedor Bondarchuk Uses 3D to Generate Emotion

“3D erased the wall between the screen and the viewers,” the Russian director tells THR of his upcoming Sony release, which was shot with Red Epic cameras and 3Ality rigs.

BARCELONA – I was particularly interested in seeing a 20-minute footage presentation from Columbia Pictures’ Stalingrad, a dramatic 3D-lensed Russian film from director Fedor Bondarchuk, this week at CineEurope. I had participated in a panel on 3D storytelling at last year’s IBC convention and one panelist, 3Ality CEO Steve Schklair, spoke of this project (he was a 3D producer on the film), which is currently in postproduction.

Set in 1942, Staingrad is a love story set during World War II’s Battle of Stalingrad.

The movie is being billed as the first Russian film to be shot in 3D for an Imax release. In the preview of the unfinished film that I saw in 3D (the trailer was separately screened in 2D during Sony’s slate presentation) the spectacle of the battle scenes was given added emotional weight through the director’s use of close-ups.

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The power of a close-up in 3D is something that I have discussed with numerous filmmakers, including Ang Lee, whom I spoke with during this past awards season about Life of Pi. In a more recent release, it's something that Baz Luhrmann used to strong effect in The Great Gatsby.

This week at CineEurope I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Bondarchuk. (The interview was conducted in large part through a translator).

“I love close-ups," the director said. "Spielberg says there is nothing worse than a big close-up from brow to chin; I do not agree with him.

“It was interesting and emotional for us to see the close-up [in 3D] of an actor who is working and feeling. I connect emotionally. … This is the way I push a little bit hard to get out emotions.

“For me [3D] was a completely new experiment,” he added. “[I found] there is a difference [in how] the emotions of the actors [are conveyed].”

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Another thing that Bondarchuk discovered about 3D is that, working with the stereographer, he could bring the audience’s attention to different details or characters within a single frame, without editing. “It's going back to good old editing inside a frame [compared with ‘short cuts’],” he said. 

The director also discussed his use of atmospheric effects such as smoke and particles to immerse the viewer in the battle. “The city was on fire, it was horrible,” he said of the actual events of the battle. “There are historical photographs with a black cloud over the city. We wanted to add these details in the 3D, and it came together with the real story. We tested it very carefully -- different types of ashes and smoke and sand -- to understand how it was going to work [in 3D].”

Director of photography Maksim Osadchy used Red Epic cameras on 3Ality 3D rigs to photograph the movie, which was shot completely on location in Russia.

Stalingrad was produced by Alexander Rodnyansky and Sergey Melkumov for Non-Stop Production and Dmitry Rudovsky for Art Pictures. Rodnyanksy was at CineEurope and told THR, “Russia is a country [that likes] 3D and spectacle in the cinema.”

Bondarchuk is a founder of Art Pictures, producer of the Afghan war drama The 9th Company, the first film that he directed. It was the winner of seven Golden Eagle Awards. The second film he directed, Inhabited Island, was released in 2009 and grossed over $30 million in Russia. Both of these films were produced by Rodnyansky and Melkumov; Stalingrad is their third film together.

Sony Pictures Releasing International is distributing the film, starting Oct. 10 in Russia. A U.S. release date has not been announced.

Twitter: @CGinLA