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Following the critical triumph ot Alexander Nevsky in 1939, Eisentstein's next film project was the monumental Ivan the Terrible, conceived as a three-part epic about the life and times of Ivan IV, the Czar who originally unified Russia in the 16th Century.

Eisenstein spent two years researching and outlining the subject prior to commencing filming in April of 1943. The film's clear vision and visual imagery is, at least in part, due to the hundreds of sketches for every scene and detail in the film that Eisenstein produced prior to the cameras rolling. Filming took place under difficult wartime conditions and was shot at the Aima Ata studios (in Central Asia) where most of Moscow's film workers were evacuated following heavy Nazi bombardment of the capital.