Mark Semyonovich Donskoi in Odessa, 6 March 1901.
Studied medicine and music, then law at University of Simferopol, to
1925; State Film School, under Eisenstein, 1926.
Served in Red Army during civil war, 1919–21.
Married scriptwriter Irina Sprink, 1936, two sons.
Worked in Ukrainian police force, early 1920s; after film school, joined
Belgoskino studios, Leningrad, and directed first film,
, 1927; directed first sound film for Vostokkino, 1934; began at
Soyuzdietfilm (Children's Film Studios), Moscow, 1940; worked at
Kiev Studios, 1942–45; returned to Soyuzdietfilm (renamed Maxim
Gorky Studios), 1946; assigned to Kiev Studios, 1949; returned to Gorky
Studios, Moscow, late 1950s.
Stalin Prize, 1941, 1946, 1948; Order of Lenin, 1944, 1971; Silver Seal,
Locarno Festival, 1960; People's Artist of the Soviet Union, 1966;
Hero of Socialist Labor, 1971.
24 March 1981.
Films as Director:
Zhizn ( Life ) (co-d, co-sc); V bolshom gorode ( In the Big City ) (co-d, co-sc)
Tsena cheloveka ( The Price of Man ; Man's Value ; The Lesson ) (co-d)
Pizhon ( The Fop )
Chuzoi bereg ( The Other Shore ); Ogon ( Fire )
Pesnya o shchastye ( Song about Happiness ) (co-d)
Detstvo Gorkovo ( Childhood of Gorky ; The Childhood of Maxim Gorki ) (+ co-sc)
Vlyudyakh ( Among People ; My Apprenticeship ; Out in the World ) (+ co-sc)
Moi universiteti ( My Universities ) (+ co-sc)
Romantiki ( Children of the Soviet Arctic ) (+ co-sc)
Kak zakalyalas stal ( How the Steel Was Tempered ; Heroes Are Made ) (+ sc); "Mayak (Beacon, The Signal Tower)" (d only), "Kvartal (Block 14)" (+ spvr), "Sinie skali (Blue Crags)" (+ spvr) segments of Boevi kinosbornik ( Fighting Film Album ) no. 9
Raduga ( The Rainbow ) (+ co-sc)
Nepokorenniye ( Semya tarassa ; Unvanquished ; Unconquered ) (+ co-sc)
Selskaya uchitelnitsa ( Varvara ; An Emotional Education ; Rural Institute ; A Village School-Teacher )
Alitet ukhodit v gory ( Zakoni Bolshoi zemli ; Alitet Leaves for the Hills ) (+ co-sc) (film banned, partially destroyed)
Sportivnaya slava ( Nachi chempiony ; Sporting Fame ; Our Champions ) (short)
Mat ( Mother ) (+ co-sc)
Dorogoi tsenoi ( At Great Cost ; The Horse That Cried )
Foma Gordeyev (+ co-sc)
Zdravstvuitye deti ( Hello Children ) (+ co-sc)
Serdtse materi ( A Mother's Heart )
Vernost materi ( A Mother's Loyalty )
Prostitutka ( The Prostitute ) (Frelikh) (role as passerby)
Yevo prevosoditelstvo ( His Excellency ) (Roshal) (ed)
Nevidimi chelovek ( The Invisible Man ) (Whale) (spvr of dubbing and reediting)
Brat geroya ( Brother of a Hero ) (Vasilchikov) (art d)
By DONSKOI: articles—
"Ceux qui savent parler aux dieux . . . ," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1959.
"Mon Idéal c'est un humanisme combattant," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 19 December 1963.
Interview with Robert Grelier, in Cinéma (Paris), December 1967.
"My—propagandisty partii," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), November 1972.
"Tret'e izmerenie," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), December 1974.
On DONSKOI: books—
Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , London, 1960.
Cervoni, Albert, Marc Donskoi , Paris, 1966.
Liehm, Mira and Antonin, The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film after 1945 , Berkeley, California, 1977.
On DONSKOI: articles—
de la Roche, Catherine, "Mark Donskoi," in Sequence (London), Autumn 1948.
Fox, Charles, "The Gorki Trilogy—The Poetry of Cinema," in Film (London), February 1955.
Marcorelles, Louis, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 93, 1959.
Haudiquet, Philippe, "Mark Donskoi," in Image et Son (Paris), November 1964.
Gillett, John, "Mark Donskoi," in Focus on Film (London), March/April 1970.
"Director of the Year," in International Film Guide , London, 1971.
"Mark Donskoi," in Film Dope (London), June 1977.
Fadeeva, Y., "Mark Donskoi: Irrepressible Youth," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 3, 1979.
"Mark Donskoi," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 February 1979.
Zak, M., and others, "V kontekste istorii," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), March 1981.
Cluny, C.M., "Hommage: Marc Donskoi," in Cinéma (Paris), May 1981.
Pokrovskii, V., and others, "Tiazhko, tovarishchi!," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 5, 1990.
* * *
Mark Donskoi may not be as familiar to Western audiences as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, or Dovzhenko; his films are in no way as readily recalled as Battleship Potemkin, Mother , or Earth. Like other Soviet filmmakers, he propagandizes about the glories of the Bolshevik Revolution and highlights the life of Lenin. But Donskoi's great and unique contribution to Russian cinema is his adaption to the screen of Maxim Gorki's autobiographical trilogy: The Childhood of Gorki, My Apprenticeship , and My Universities , all based on the early life of the famed writer and shot during the late 1930s. (Years later, Donskoi adapted two other Gorki works, Mother —the same story filmed by Pudovkin in 1926—and Foma Gordeyev. )
In the trilogy, Donskoi chronicles the life of Gorki from childhood on, focusing on the experiences which alter his view of the world. At their best, these films are original and pleasing: the first presents a comprehensive and richly detailed view of rural life in Russia during the 1870s. While delineating the dreams of nineteenth-century Russian youth, Donskoi lovingly recreates the era. The characters are presented in terms of their conventional ambitions and relationships within the family structure. They are not revolutionaries, but rather farmers and other provincials with plump bodies and commonplace faces. The result is a very special sense of familiarity, of fidelity to a time and place. Of course, villains in Gorki's childhood are not innately evil, but products of a repressive czarist society. They are thus compassionately viewed. Donskoi pictures the Russian countryside with imagination, and sometimes even with grandeur.
Donskoi's later noteworthy works include How the Steel Was Tempered , one of the first Russian films to deal with World War II. While based on a Civil War story, the filmmaker includes only the sequences pertaining to Ukrainian resistance to German invaders in 1918, paralleling that situation to the Nazi invasion. The story also recalls the Gorki trilogy in its presentation of a boy who is changed by his encounter with life's challenges.
The Rainbow , an appropriately angry drama shot at the height of World War II, details the struggles of life in a German-occupied village. Donskoi's message in this film is that despite Nazi brutality, including the shooting of small boys, the spirit of the Soviet people will endure. This film is particularly inspirational; its approach may even have influenced Italian neorealism. The Unvanquished , about occupied Kiev, is a kind of sequel to The Rainbow. It graphically depicts the slaughter of Jews at Babi Yar.
The careers of few Russian filmmakers have outlasted that of Donskoi, who in his youth had fought in the Civil War and been imprisoned by the White Russians. His films span fifty years, though his Gorki trilogy alone would have assured him of a niche in cinema history.