Sergei Bondarchuk was one of the most important Russian filmmakers, best known for directing an Academy Award-winning film epic Voyna i mir (1966), based on the book by Leo Tolstoy, in which he also starred as Pierre Bezukhov. He was born Sergei Fedorovich Bondarchuk on September, 25, 1920, in the village of Belozerka, Kherson province, Ukraine, Russian Federation (now Belozerka, Ukraine). He was brought up in Southern Ukraine, then in Azov and Taganrog, Southern Russia. Young Bondarchuk was fond of theatre and books by such authors as Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. He made his stage debut in 1937, on the stage of the Chekhov Drama Theatre in the city of Taganrog, then studied acting at Rostov Theatrical School. In 1942 his studies were interrupted by the Nazi invasion during WWII. Bondarchuk was recruited in the Red Army and served for four years until he was discharged in 1946. From 1946 - 1948 he attended the State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow (VGIK), graduating as an actor from the class of Sergey Gerasimov. In 1948 he made his film debut in Povest o nastoyashchem cheloveke (1948) then co-starred in Molodaya gvardiya (1948). For his portrayal of the title character in Taras Shevchenko (1951) he was awarded the State Stalin's Prize of the USSR, and was designated People's Artist of the USSR, becoming the youngest actor ever to receive such honor. Then he starred in the internationally renowned adaptation of the Shakespeare's Otello (1956), in the title role opposite Irina Skobtseva as Desdemona. Bondarchuk expressed his own experience as a soldier of WWII when he starred in Sudba cheloveka (1959), a war drama based on the eponymous story by Mikhail Sholokhov, which was also Bondarchuk's directorial debut that earned him the prestigious Lenin's Prize of the USSR in 1960. Bondarchuk shot to international fame with Voyna i mir (1966), a powerful adaptation of the eponymous masterpiece by Leo Tolstoy. The 7-hour-long film epic won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and brought Bondarchuk a reputation of one of the finest directors of his generation. The most expensive project in film history, Voyna i mir (1966) was produced over seven years, from 1961 to 1968, at an estimated cost of $100,000,000 (over $800,000,000 adjusted for inflation in 2010). The film set several records, such as involving over three hundred professional actors from several countries and also tens of thousands extras from the Red Army in filming of the 3rd two-hour-long episode about the historic Battle of Borodino against the Napoleon's invasion, making it the largest battle scene ever filmed. Bondarchuk also made history by introducing several remote-controlled cameras that were moving on 300 meter long wires above the scene of the battlefield. Having earned international acclaim for Voyna i mir (1966), he starred in the epic Bitka na Neretvi (1969) with fellow Russian, Yul Brynner, and Orson Welles, whom he would direct the following year. By the late 1960s Bondarchuk was one of the most awarded actor and director in the Soviet Union. However, he was still not a member of the Soviet Communist Party, a fact that brought attention from the Soviet leadership under Leonid Brezhnev. Soon Bondarchuk received an official recommendation to join the Soviet Communist Party, an offer that nobody in the Soviet Union could refuse without risking a career. At that time he was humorously comparing his situation with the historic Hollywood trials of filmmakers during the 50s. Bondarchuk was able to avoid the Communist Party in his earlier career, but things changed in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, so in 1970, he accepted the trade-off and joined the Soviet Communist Party for the sake of protecting his film career. In 1971 he was elected Chairman of the Union of Filmmakers, a semi-government post in the Soviet system of politically controlled culture. Eventually he evolved into a politically controlled figure and turned to making such politically charged films as Mexico in Flames (1982) and other such films. Later, during the liberalization of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, Bondarchuk was seen as a symbol of conservatism in Soviet cinema, so in 1986 he was voted out of the office. Bondarchuk was the first Russian director to make a big budget international co-production with the financial backing of Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, such as Waterloo (1970), a Russian-Italian co-production vividly reconstructing the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars. This was his first English-language production, but several Soviet actors were cast, e.g. Sergo Zakariadze and Oleg Vidov. In this film, Orson Welles, his co-star in Bitka na Neretvi (1969) made a cameo as the old King Louis XVII of France. But this time Bondarchuk was unable to control the advances of Rod Steiger, and the film was a commercial flop in Europe and America, albeit it gained the favor of critics. After his dismissal from the office of Chairman of the Union of Cinematographers he started filming And Quiet Flows the Don (2006) based on the eponymous novel by the Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, with Rupert Everett as the lead. At the end of filming, just before post-production, Bondarchuk learned about some unfavorable details in his contract, causing a bitter dispute with the producers over the rights to the film and bringing much pain to the last two years of his life. Amidst this legal battle the production was stopped and the film was stored in a bank vault, and remained unedited and undubbed for nearly fourteen years. The production was completed by Russian television company "First Channel", and aired in November 2006. In his career that spanned over five decades, Sergei Bondarchuk had credits as actor, director, writer, and co-producer in a wide range of films. He suffered a heart attack and died on October 20, 1994, and was laid to rest in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, Russia, next to such Russian luminaries as Anton Chekhov and Mikhail A. Bulgakov. His death caused a considerable mourning in Russia. Bondarchuk was survived by his second wife, actress Irina Skobtseva and their children, actress Alyona Bondarchuk, and actor/director Fedor Bondarchuk, and actress Natalya Bondarchuk, his daughter with his first wife, actress Inna Makarova. As a tribute to Sergei Bondarchuk, his son, Fedor Bondarchuk called him "a father and my teacher," and dedicated his directorial debut, 9th Company (2005), set in war-torn Afghanistan, whereas Sergei's directorial debut was set in WWII.