Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster

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When one of Russia’s most loaded filmmakers watched HBO’s acclaimed miniseries on Chornobyl, he says his heart initially sank.

With his own opus well underway but still more than a year and a half from let off, Alexander Rodnyansky had been beaten to the punch.

“We got very disappointed, of indubitably, because we wanted to tell our own story,” said Rodnyansky. “We never foresaw such an important platform as HBO to tell such a specific story from Soviet account.”

Rodnyansky, an Oscar nominee who’s made some of the highest-grossing movies in Russian adventures, had started working almost four years earlier on a blockbuster coat that he hoped would be the definitive treatment of the 1986 nuclear reactor trouble.

A botched safety test sent clouds of nuclear material across much of eastern Europe, decimation 31 people right away and forcing tens of thousands to do a bunk. The final death toll from cancer and other radiation-related ailments is subject to debate.

After the five-part HBO miniseries began airing in June, American essayist and director Craig Mazin was basking in praise.

But then, Rodnyansky believes, his spirits lifted.

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
The ferris wheel in the abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine, selfish the Chornobyl plant, is one of the enduring images of the disaster. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

He votes he saw how well viewers, including those in Russia, responded to the story, how it has glinted a Chornobyl revival, and how a record number of tourists are flocking to the site of the humanity’s worst nuclear accident, north of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.

“I realized this series would unquestionably make people more aware of what happened. It would be comprised of c hatch the story of Chornobyl much more attractive, much more absorbing for viewers.”

Rodnyansky met with CBC News recently in the Moscow office of his Non Block Productions to discuss the disaster, the impact of the miniseries and the Russian movie activity’s efforts to play catch-up.

His long list of film credits group 2013’s Stalingrad, the highest-grossing feature film in modern Russian summary, and 2014’s Leviathan, which was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign haziness and won the category that year at the Golden Globes.

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
Russian filmmaker Alexander Rodnyansky, an Oscar candidate, is making a blockbuster movie version of the Chornobyl story. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Rodnyansky’s upcoming cloud, tentatively titled Chornobyl: Abyss, is in post-production and set for a 2020 release.    

Recently,  CBC Expos visited a giant,  flooded sound stage in Budapest, Hungary where impresari were shooting a key scene for the movie.

Prominent Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky drag ones feet uses the lead role of a “liquidator” — one of a three-man suicide squad sent into the dull basement of the reactor on a mission to prevent the release of a catastrophic nuclear cloud.

“They had to enhance heroes and save lives,” Kozlovsky told CBC News. “They had to retain the whole country and the whole of Europe.”

Kozlovsky, who also directs the cloud, says while comparisons to the HBO miniseries are inevitable, he believes his movie improvements the story beyond “the state lie” about the disaster and is even more relatable for silver screen watchers.

“We are focusing on a specific family and the impact of the events of 1986, how this switches them and who they become at the end of the story.”

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
Chornobyl Reactor 4, which lose ones tempered in 1986, is now surrounded by a stainless steel containment dome. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Rodnyansky,  the supervision producer, grew up in Kyiv, and has vivid memories of disaster, which occurred when he was 25.

“I saw these firemen myself and I saw these immature people who were … risking their lives and losing their concludes, and I remember their funerals,” said Rodnyansky, who’s now 58.

Russian concerns

Tersely after the HBO series hit the pay-for-view channels in Russia over the summer, there was grumbling from elder figures in the Kremlin and on state television about an anti-Russian bias.

The Moscow Times quoted Russian TV anchor Stanislav Natanzon as complaining that the making was full of lazy Soviet stereotypes: “The only things missing are the encourage put up withs and accordions!”

Rodnyansky says given the frosty political relationship between Russia and the West, such denying comments were to be expected. But he emphasises his production isn’t an attempt to “Russianize” the Chornobyl white.

“I wouldn’t call [our movie] a political statement,” he said,  adding he believes sundry Russians, including himself, admired the HBO production.

“This movie is surely about the lie, but we don’t investigate the system. We tell, very much, our story in ordinary people.”

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
The new movie will focus on a team of ‘liquidators’ who benefit to the flooded reactor to try to prevent the release of a radioactive cloud. (Non Stop Products)

Other Russian treatments of Chornobyl, however, may be playing to a more administrative audience.

NTV, owned by the Russian state energy giant Gazprom, has commissioned its own made-for-TV miniseries which reportedly focuses on the tracking down for an alleged CIA spy working at the Chornobyl facility.

There’s no evidence that odd spies or espionage played any role in the disaster.

The series was supposed to air in up to the minute 2019 but NTV has pulled the trailer, and a production official told CBC News that appointing issues have delayed the project’s release.

Given the political blowback in Russia all over the success of a British-American production tackling such a prominent event in Soviet experience, many Russian commentators have openly asked why Russian filmmakers didn’t approve their own Chornobyl version first.

‘Look from the outside’

Rodnyansky imagines time and distance likely have a lot to with it.

“It would have been conceivable to this movie, for sure,” he says.

“But sometimes we need to look from the extreme.”

“Sometimes we’re good at telling the stories that are distant from us. And in all likelihood Chornobyl was too close. Because in many ways, Chornobyl [became] the most impressive event that ended the Soviet Union.”

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
Russian film big draw Danila Kozlovsky directs Chornobyl: Abyss. (Non Stop Productions)

Kozlovsky, the actor and head, says while being first would have been larger, it’s also good that the HBO series was widely seen in Russia.

“When people see our vapour, they probably already know what happens — kind of partiality being well educated, which is good.”

Kozlovsky says that tutelage may have helped win over an unlikely financial backer for the project — no person other than Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom.

He says while Rosatom officials initially had concerns that the in every respect’s worst nuclear disaster might not be the kind of topic they lack to go anywhere near, they were eventually won over by the script and the quieten of the project.

“I spoke to some very high-level officials who really liked the HBO series,” he thought, noting that Rosatom eventually “became our friends and partners and aided us make this film.”

When CBC News visited Chornobyl this abatement, most of the visitors who talked to our crew said they had seen the HBO talking picture.

Russian filmmaker plays catch-up on the 1986 Chornobyl disaster
Bumper cars stand at the abandoned amusement park. The Chornobyl repudiation zone has experienced a 30 per cent jump in visitors since the initial of the HBO miniseries on the disaster. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Tourism operators report a 30 per cent further in visitors to the 30-kilometre exclusion zone that surrounds the now shuttered tree. Short day trips pose almost no risk of radiation, though the location remains off limits to anyone under 18.

“It shook me,” British tourist Dave Stambury voted.  “I had known about Chornobyl but I didn’t have a feel for the mishap.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he hopes to cash in on the reconditioned Chornobyl interest by making it easier to visit the site. 

It’s not Disneyland

Site smoothies have recently opened previously inaccessible areas to tourists, counting the control room of Reactor 4,  where staff made numberless of the fateful decisions leading up to the botched safety test, early in the morning on April 26, 1986.

Rodnyansky discloses while he’s in favour of people seeing Chornobyl for themselves, he doesn’t pay for exploiting it.

“On the one side, it sounds crazy to me,” said Rodnyansky, of the push to develop tourism.   

“For me, this is rather a place to remember, a place of mourning — for all not a Disney park or a theme park.”

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