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The short film presented here was shot on L. N. Tolstoy's eightieth birthday (August 28, 1908) by one of the early pioneers of Russian cinema, Aleksandr Osipovich Drankov, and his two assistants, I. S. Frolov and V. Vasil'ev. It was the first film taken of Tolstoy.

It was obtained from the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive and digitized by Eric W. Hoffman at the Media Center of Stetson University. The Tolstoy Studies Journal holds non-exclusive copyright over its use.

The film opens with Tolstoy's relatives and friends riding through the territory of Yasnaya Polyana on a light carriage, delivering a box of presents for peasant children. I believe the woman riding in the middle of the carriage (in the white blouse) is Aleksandra L'vovna, Tolstoy's third daughter. The following scene finds Tolstoy's wife, Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya, collecting flowers from the flower garden. The Tolstoys' beloved dog (a spaniel-poodle mix) makes a brief appearance. Next, V. Chertkov, Tolstoy's aide and close friend, distributes alms at the "tree of the poor" (дерево бедных). Chertkov appears in several of the scenes: he is the bald man with a beard and mustache, sometimes wearing an English bowler. Among the men leaving the main house with Chertkov are the Tolstoys' sons. You can also spy another of Drankov's cameras set up near the house. The last scenes are of Tolstoy: In the penultimate scene, Tolstoy, who was suffering from leg pain at the time, is seated on the second-floor balcony, in a low wicker chair, barely visible over the railing. The men to the left are students who have come to congratulate Tolstoy on his birthday. Chertkov stands immediately behind Tolstoy, and Sofia Andreevna stands to the right. The final scene is taken from the balcony. Tolstoy smiles at the camera, his ailing leg propped on an ottoman. Sofia Andreevna stands to his right, Chertkov behind him, and Aleksandra L'vovna can be seen to Tolstoy's left.

(Родственники и близкие Л. Н. Толстого едут в повозке в деревню Ясная Поляна, везут ящик с подарками для крестьянских детей. С. А. Толстая срезает цветы в саду для букета. Родные и близкие Л. Н. Толстого сидят в саду за столом, играют с собакой. Секретарь Л. Н. Толстого В. Чертков раздает милостыню нищим. Л. Н. Толстой и С. А. Толстая на балконе в день юбилея.)

Watch the film:

For slow connections: Small picture, low quality image
Window's Media Player version
Quicktime Version

For fast connections: Large picture, high quality image
Window's Media Player version
Quicktime Version

You will need the Window's Media Player or Quicktime Player to watch this short film. If the file does not properly launch, you might try to right-click on the link with your mouse and choose the "save link target as" option. Once the file is finished downloading, you can double-click the icon.

There are several accounts of the shooting of this film: The most detailed is in Lev Anninsky’s «Охота на Льва» (Tula: Shar, 1998), p. 14-20. Another can be found in Jay Leyda's Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 33. You can read another account, published in the New York Times, of the day's events and Tolstoy's reaction to cinema here, on the Tolstoy Studies website.

Michael A. Denner,
Tolstoy Studies Website Editor