The often problematical concept of national cinema takes on particular complications in the case of Russian and Soviet cinema. The first century of cinema encompassed intervals of Russian history from the late imperial period (1895–1917), through the era of the Soviet Union (1917–1991), to the emergence of the post-Soviet Russian Republic and the other newly independent states (from 1992). Much of twentieth-century Russian history coincides with the seventy-five-year presence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, during which time period Russia represented just one member—the dominant one, to be sure—of a fifteen-member federal union. Russia's national culture was subsumed into the cultural politics of that larger union and guided by the political goals of the Soviet ruling elite.
Another ongoing issue for the region's cinema was its dynamic relationship with the West. The course of Russian and Soviet cinema has been influenced through the decades by periodic interaction with Western Europe and the United States. The twentieth century saw episodes of active cultural exchange (the 1920s) as well as periods in which Russia was cut off from foreign influences (the late 1940s). This give-and-take shaped and reshaped the region's indigenous cinema.