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|Also Known As:||Donna M Belajac||Died:|
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One of the most commercially successful filmmakers in Russian history, writer-director-producer Timur Bekmambetov also managed the herculean feat of conquering the U.S. box office. While earning a solid reputation as a commercial and music video director, Bekmambetov co-wrote and directed his first feature, "Peshavar Waltz" (1994), a gripping Afghan War drama. Working for Roger Corman, he made his U.S. debut with the direct-to-DVD female gladiator movie "The Arena" (2001), prior to helming his breakout feature, "Night Watch" (2004), a supernatural action-adventure that shattered all existing box-office records in his home country. Picked up by U.S. distributor Fox Searchlight, "Night Watch" quickly spawned an equally successful sequel, "Day Watch" (2006). Bekmambetov's first big-budget Hollywood project was "Wanted" (2008), a violent action adventure starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie that established him as one of the more visually interesting directors of action-fantasy material. After a few years of focusing on projects solely as a producer, he returned to the director's chair for the eagerly anticipated history-horror hybrid, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012). A visionary filmmaker with a firm grasp of the business aspect of the art form, Bekmambetov invigorated well-worn movie tropes with his uniquely eastern aesthetic.
Timur Nuruakhitovich Bekmambetov was born on June 25, 1961 in the transcontinental city of Atyrau (formerly Guryev), Kazakhstan. The son of an energy company manager and a journalist, he left home to attend college in Moscow at the age of 17, until his lifelong interest in theater and film - he made his first horror movie at the age of 10 on an 8mm home camera - led to his dropping out soon thereafter. Bekmambetov studied at Kazakhstan's prestigious A.N. Ostrovsky Theatrical and Artistic Institute, where he earned a degree in theater and cinema design in 1987. After a year of compulsory service in the Russian military, he began to pursue his creative interests in earnest, first working as a set designer for a theater company and a film studio, then directing television commercials for several years. During this period, Bekmambetov also co-wrote and directed his first feature film, "Peshavar Waltz" (1994), alongside fellow filmmaking neophyte, Gennadi Kayumov. A harrowing tale of Soviet prisoners of war attempting to escape from a Pakistani fortress, it not only earned Bekmambetov critical notoriety, but attracted the attention of B-movie magnate, Roger Corman, who later purchased the movie for distribution in the U.S.
Throughout the rest of the decade, Bekmambetov made a name for himself by directing dozens of high-profile commercials and music videos, mounted by his production company, Bazelevs Productions. He worked on campaigns for Pepsi and Daewoo cars, garnering several advertising awards for his work and nabbing Best Young Director Award from the Russian Film Academy in 1997. After producing and directing the eight-part miniseries, "Our '90s" for Russian television, Bekmambetov was hired by admirer Corman to helm his first U.S. feature film, "The Arena" (2001). A remake of a 1974 sexploitation movie of the same name - also produced by Corman - it was strictly a direct-to-DVD affair, although Bekmambetov later credited the experience and Corman with having taught him valuable lessons in financial resourcefulness and creative ingenuity.
Like so many up and coming directors before him, Corman's tutelage paid off in a major way for Bekmambetov with his next feature, "Night Watch" (2004). A supernatural fantasy-adventure tale based on a series of novels by Russian sci-fi author Sergey Lukyanenko, the film told the tale of an age-old struggle between the opposing forces of Light and Dark, with humanity forever caught in the middle. Written and directed by Bekmambetov, "Night Watch" was post-Soviet Russia's first legitimate blockbuster, going on to become the country's highest grossing film ever at that time. Having attracted significant international attention, "Night Watch" was soon picked up by Fox Searchlight for distribution in the U.S., where it enjoyed impressive box office for a foreign language film. With everyone from genre auteur Quentin Tarantino to cinema fan sites singing Bekmambetov's praises, Fox Searchlight picked up the rights to the movie's expected sequel, "Day Watch" (2006). The movie, in which a fragile truce between the forces of Light and Dark threatens to crumble, once again became a massive commercial success in Russia and performed well in the States.
The hits kept coming for Bekmambetov, who once again broke Russian box-office records with the romantic comedy "The Irony of Fate 2" (2007), the sequel to a beloved holiday romance from 1975. Next up was "Wanted" (2008), an action-adventure based on a comic book miniseries in which a mild-mannered account (James McAvoy) discovers he is descended from a long line of specially gifted assassins. Co-starring the Hollywood marquee talent of Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, "Wanted" killed at the U.S. box office and firmly established the Russian director on U.S. shores. As he juggled an increasingly full slate of projects, Bekmambetov found time to co-produce with Tim Burton the animated fantasy-adventure "9" (2009), as well as direct a segment of the New Years-themed comedy, "Six Degrees of Celebration" (2010). The following year he co-produced both the moon-landing sci-fi horror movie "Apollo 18" (2011) and "The Darkest Hour" (2011), an alien invasion thriller set in Moscow.
While neither of the previous year's offerings performed well with audiences or critics, Bekmambetov's next directorial effort, the historical-horror mash-up, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012), was one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. Produced by Burton and based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, it told the secret history of America's 16th President (Benjamin Walker) and his crusade to destroy the undead and their slave-owning helpers.
By Bryce Coleman
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