By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Russia's Ivanovo region on Wednesday paid 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million), or 15 times the estimate, for an archive of thousands of letters, photographs and recordings once belonging to leading film director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Tarkovsky, who was born in the region in 1932, is considered one of Russia's greatest film makers, directing acclaimed movies including "Andrei Rublyev", "Solaris" and "The Mirror".
Sotheby's, which auctioned the archive in London, said the sale followed a "dramatic 18-minute bidding battle" that ended up between three bidders. The collection had been expected to fetch 80-100,000 pounds.
"The archive was purchased at the initiative of the government of the Ivanovo Region in order to preserve the heritage of a genius film director in his homeland, the city of Yurevets in Russia," read a statement issued by Sotheby's.
"The archive will be placed on public view in the Tarkovsky memorial house museum in the Ivanovo Region.
"It will become a welcome addition for visitors of the museum as well as for guests and participants of the annual International film festival of A.Tarkovsky called The Mirror."
The archive covers the last 20 years of the film maker's life and includes the draft of a letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev from the late 1970s urging him to lift a ban on screenings of his 1966 classic Andrei Rublyev.
The letter underlines the director's prolonged tussle with Soviet authorities over censorship which eventually convinced Tarkovsky to leave his native country and spend the last four years of his life in exile.
When the sale was announced earlier this month, Sotheby's head of books and manuscripts Stephen Roe said it was unlikely such an important archive relating to Tarkovsky would be offered for sale again.
Tarkovsky is considered one of the greatest film directors of the 20th century and perhaps second only to Sergei Eisenstein in terms of Russian cinema.
Many leading film makers working today cite him as an inspiration, including award-winning compatriot Alexander Sokurov who knew Tarkovsky and is widely regarded as his heir.
Arguably the most important document in the archive, which was sold by Tarkovsky's pupil and friend Olga Surkova, was a draft of a letter the director wrote to Brezhnev about restrictions placed on his medieval epic Andrei Rublyev.
Based on the life of the famous Russian icon painter, the movie was not screened publicly in the Soviet Union for several years after it first appeared at the Cannes film festival in 1969 because of its themes of religion and artistic freedom.
"Andrei Rublyev was not and could not have been used for any kind of anti-Soviet propaganda," he wrote. "I do not have any opportunity to exercise my creative ideas. I was told that the issue is closely related to the fate of Andrei Rublyev."
In 1982 he decided to leave the Soviet Union and shot "Nostalghia" (Nostalgia) in Italy and "The Sacrifice" in Sweden.
The latter was his last movie. Tarkovsky was diagnosed with cancer in 1985 and died the following year in Paris aged 54.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)