Motion Picture Pioneer. One of the founders of Russian Cinema. Born in the Ukraine's Donetsk Province, he served as captain of a Don Cossack unit in the Russo-Japanese War and was decorated for bravery. After the war he settled in Moscow, where he opened his first nickelodeon in 1906. At the time the fledgeling Russian movie market was monopolized by foreign films and his initial attempts at native production were modest newsreels and comedies. He made a fortune distributing France's "Film d'Art" epics, beginning in 1908; these adaptations of literary classics, featuring stars of the Paris stage, attracted upper-crust audiences and gained him influential acquaintances among the nobility. One of them, Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich Romanov, helped finance Khanzhonkov's ambitious, 100 minute-long "The Defense of Sevastapol" (1911), Russia's first full-length movie and one of the earliest features ever produced. He followed this with another historical drama, "1812" (1912); both were hits and reportedly admired by Czar Nicholas II himself. With the proceeds he founded the giant studio A.A. Khanzhonkov & Co. in 1912, which in a short time boasted production facilities in Moscow and Yalta as well as a nationwide chain of theatres and its own quarterly fan magazine. He initiated the "star" system in Slavic movies with his performers Ivan Mosjoukine and Vera Kholodnaya, and launched the career of pioneer animator Wladislaw Starewicz, whose witty stop-motion shorts "The Cameraman's Revenge" and "The Grasshopper and the Ant" (both 1912) were the first Russian films that were well-received abroad. During World War I Khanzhonkov's mainstays were the intense psychological dramas of director Yevgeni Bauer, including "After Death" (1915), "The Dying Swan" (1917), and "The Revolutionary" (1917). All the while he conducted a fierce rivalry with his chief competitor, producer Alexander Drankov, and their attempts to one-up or sabotage each other's releases was the talk of the industry. With the 1917 Revolution and ensuing Civil War he retreated to his Yalta studio, where he haphazardly continued making films until the Bolsheviks took the company away from him in 1920. He then emigrated to Austria. In 1923 Khanzhonkov accepted an invitation from Anatoli Lunacharsky, the USSR's Commissar of Enlightenment, to return to Moscow as a producer, but this decision was opposed by others in the Party Central Committee and he was employed mainly as a consultant. False accusations of embezzlement forced him into retirement in 1926 and his pre-Revolutionary output was banned under Stalin, though he was later awarded a state pension for his groundbreaking contributions to his country's cinema. His autobiography, "The First Years of Films", was published in 1937. He died in Yalta.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards