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Friday, 11 February, 2000, 01:48 GMT
Stalingrad meets Hollywood
As the Russian Army celebrates the capture of Grozny, a Hollywood film crew is recreating another famous victory, at Stalingrad, at a former Red Army barracks just outside Berlin. BBC News Online's Chris Summers reports
At times in recent weeks Russian Army commanders must have wondered whether Grozny was to become their Stalingrad - a step too far into hostile territory.
As the bitter Caucasus winter began to bite, the Chechen rebels used tactics similar to those of Stalingrad's Red Army defenders - covering the city with tunnels, minefields and machine-gun nests, absorbing punishment and counter-attacking at night.
But for the Chechens there was no General Chuikov to lead the resistance or a Marshal Zhukov to dream up a strategy to relieve the city and, ultimately win the war.
As the Chechens fall back into the mountains, hundreds of miles away in an abandoned Red Army barracks in the former East Germany a Hollywood film crew is recreating Stalingrad.
Mandalay Pictures, which is making Enemy At The Gates, searched for a year for a suitable location, and eventually chose the Babelsberg Studios outside Berlin. With a budget of £56m, it is the most expensive film ever made in Europe.
Geraldine Maloney, of distributors Pathe Pictures, says: "It should be out in the US by Christmas - making it eligible for Academy Award (Oscar) nomination - and in Europe by spring 2001."
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud - who made Seven Years In Tibet and The Name Of The Rose - is currently filming in the former Red Army barracks at nearby Krampnitz, which is being used to simulate war-torn Stalingrad.
Some scenes are being shot 50 miles away with the river Oder doubling for the freezing waters of the Volga.
Mark Seaman, a historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, said he believed finding sets would not have been Annaud's hardest problem.
"Their biggest problem would have been finding the hardware - tanks, planes, guns - from the era," he said.
Mr Seaman, who has advised several TV and film companies on military authenticity, told BBC News Online the most important thing the makers of Enemy At The Gates had to convey was the "awesome savagery" of the hand-to-hand fighting.
"By that stage in the war, it was no quarter asked and none given by either side," he said.
Jean Turner, secretary of the Soviet War Memorial Trust in London, said even now the wounds of Stalingrad had not fully healed.
Only last year the authorities in what is now known as Volgograd finally erected a memorial to the German war dead - many of whom are being DNA tested in an attempt to discover their identities.
"The vast majority of German families do not know where their menfolk lie," she told BBC News Online.
Mr Seaman said he sympathised with the difficulties faced by Hollywood studios: "Part of the sales pitch, and perhaps some of the interest, is that what they are doing is 'from the pages of history', but it is difficult to be completely realistic wthout losing some of the drama.
"Would Joe Public actually want to go and see 5,000 extras shoot blanks at each other for three hours?"
But he said while the film-makers were entitled to use artistic licence with minor facts, they had a responsibility to be accurate overall.
"Many people's beliefs of what happened in the past are fashioned by historical dramas rather than documentaries," he said.
Mr Seaman said the makers of Enemy At The Gates would doubtless use computer-generated imagery to recreate events which were too difficult or too expensive.
Annaud's film will require only 600 extras, compared with the 20,000 Red Army soldiers used in Sergei Bondarchuk's 1971 classic Waterloo.
Some critics say that, as we enter a new millennium, we should stop making films about World War II and move on.
But war films remain "box office". Following in the footsteps of Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, will come Enemy At The Gates - due out in the US at Christmas and in Europe the following spring - and a £100m ($135m) Disney movie about Pearl Harbour.
It is difficult to know how Enemy At The Gates will play to a Russian audience.
Ralph Gibson, of the Russian information service Novosti, said: "Interest may depend on whether it's a realistic portrayal of the battle or simply a schlock love story with action tacked on."
Mr Seaman says: "It's important to remember the past and anybody who seeks to forget it is ultimately more likely to repeat those disasters.
"Interest in World War II is as great as ever. There are two series on television at the moment (about Colditz and the Special Operations Executive) and attendances at the museum are up."
In Enemy At The Gates Jude Law plays Vassily, a deadly Russian sniper who becomes a Red Army hero.
Law and his superior officer Danilov (played by Joseph Fiennes) compete for the affections of a female soldier Tanya, played by Rachel Weisz.
Ed Harris is an expert German marksman, Koenig, who is chosen to seek out and destroy Vassily. Their confrontation is the climax of the film.
The plot may be based on the story of "noble sniper" Zaitsev (the name means hare in Russian) who chalked up 149 German kills and began training snipers, who became known as zaichata (leverets).
A German sniper was sent in to kill him but Zaitsev outsmarted him.
The telescopic sights on the German's rifle are still on show at the armed forces museum in Moscow.
Links to other Europe stories are at the foot of the page.
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