Ancient town finds its place in modern movie industry

Just 300 km north of Moscow lies the millennium-old town of Yaroslavl, which prides itself on its rich history and breathtaking views. The town has managed to preserve many of its original buildings and has proved an amazing shooting location.

Yaroslavl's churches and monasteries attract thousands of tourists who want to absorb the spirit of ancient history.

It is said that one thousand years ago, at the place where the Volga and the Kotorosl rivers meet, Prince Yaroslav the Wise killed a local sacred bear with his battleaxe and founded the town of Yaroslavl.

The town and the region named after it have been known for drama ever since. Local filmmaker Yury Vaksman gave RT a tour to show why.

“Some 15 to 20 historical films were shot right here,” he said. “We even filmed here to recreate Moscow in 1941 with Stalin being driven around in his car.”

From the Kremlin to the Church of Elijah the Prophet to the embankment, it is as if time has stopped in the eye of the camera.

What makes the Yaroslavl Region so attractive to film makers is that the sets have been standing for centuries nearly perfectly preserved.

So when studios send out their location scouts to find a great historical setting, Yaroslavl is ready for a close-up.

And so is its talent. Aleksandr Petrov is in the business of setting moods with paint and a heavy dose of romantic realism. He adapted Ernest Hemingway's “The Old Man And The Sea” into an animated film on 29,000 painted plates of glass, and snagged the 1999 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Aleksandr says he shot the frames with a custom-made motion control IMAX camera system.

“I’ve made several films here. Here I’ve raised my pupils who now participate in the making of my films,” Aleksandr said. “I hope that soon they are going to have their own ideas and will start working on their own projects. So, my dream has come true.”

Other movers and shakers in the industry are also generating pupils of their own. Roman Kurtsyn's Hollywood and Russian movie career has taken his stunt school “Yarfilm” to a whole new level.

"Over the past five years we’ve been training people, mostly boys and men, who want to master this profession,” Roman said. “They come from all over Russia, training four or five times a week with complex stunts – it's very intensive. New talents and real stunt men are born on this carpet.”

There are other ways to jump into movies than playing with fire in Yaroslavl.

One of the best known films of the Soviet cinema was a spoof on Ivan the Terrible titled “Ivan Vasilievich changes professions”. The 16th Century Moscow displayed there was actually the town of Rostov located in Yaroslavl Region. And at the “Ivan Vasilievich” restaurant in Yaroslavl, customers get the full cinematic experience.

The scenes of the film are set throughout the restaurant, and the attached hotel caters to the movie-minded with its time-honored blockbuster themed rooms.

Yury Vaksman's recent film “Hydraulic” is packed with blockbuster action – but his theater repertoire is not.

“The city of Yaroslavl is the cradle of Russian theater,” Yury Vaksman says. “The famous theater founded here by Fyodor Volkov was the first national theater that opened in Russia. It reached the heights of creative and professional thought in its time.”

While the thousand-year-old city of Yaroslavl is internationally protected as a historical site, it will forever be known as a silent ingénue gracing the background of cinema and TV screens the world over.