Alexander Dovzhenko was born in the hamlet of Viunyshche located in Chernigov Governorate, Russian Empire (now part of Sosnytsia town in Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine), to Petro Semenovych Dovzhenko and Odarka Yermolayivna Dovzhenko. His paternal ancestors were Ukrainian Cossacks (Chumaks) who settled in Sosnytsia in the eighteenth century, coming from the neighbouring province of Poltava. Alexander was the seventh of fourteen children, but due to the horrific rate of child loss he became the oldest child by the time he turned eleven (only Alexander and his sister Polina survived).
Although his parents were uneducated, Dovzhenko’s semi-literate grandfather encouraged him to study, leading him to become a teacher at the age of 19. He escaped military service during World War I because of a heart condition, but during the Soviet-Ukrainian War he served a year in the Red Army.In 1919 in Zhytomyr he was taken prisoner and sent to a concentration camp. In 1920 Dovzhenko joined the Borotbist party. He served as an assistant to the Ambassador in Warsaw as well as Berlin. Upon his return to USSR in 1923, he began illustrating books and drawing cartoons in Kharkiv.
Dovzhenko turned to film in 1926 when he landed in Odessa. His ambitious drive led to the production of his second-ever screenplay, Vasya the Reformer (which he also co-directed). He gained greater success with Zvenyhora in 1928 which established him as a major filmmaker of his era. His following “Ukraine Trilogy” (Zvenigora, Arsenal, and Earth), although underappreciated by some contemporary Soviet critics (who found some of its realism counter-revolutionary), is his most well-known work in the West. For his film Shchors, Dovzhenko was awarded the Stalin Prize (1941); eight years later, in 1949, he was awarded another Stalin Prize for his film Michurin.
After spending several years writing, co-writing and producing films at Mosfilm Studios in Moscow, he turned to writing novels. Over a 20-year career, Dovzhenko personally directed only 7 films.
He was a mentor to the young Soviet filmmakers Larisa Shepitko and Sergei Parajanov. Dovzhenko died of a heart attack on November 25, 1956 in his dacha in Peredelkino. His wife, Yulia Solntseva, continued his legacy by producing films of her own and completing projects Dovzhenko was not able to create.
The Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kiev were named after him in his honour following his death.