A few years ago, film producer Joan Borsten began assembling the actors she wanted to star in a documentary about the life of her late husband, Soviet film star and political refugee Oleg Vidov. Vidov’s life contained all the twists and turns of a political thriller – a dramatic story he wanted to be told.
“My husband was writing an autobiography before he died and left me a list of 60 people in eight countries to talk to,” Borsten recalls with a laugh. “I grew up in the film industry and realized that no one on his list got younger or healthier, so we decided to film the interviews.” The process took three years and the end result is Oleg: The story of Oleg Vidovwhich played at the Sarasota Film Festival this month.
Borsten and Vidov met in Italy in the early 1980s. Borsten – who worked for a time in journalism – had been sent to New Delhi by the Los Angeles Times to interview director Federico Fellini’s personal fortune teller. After finishing the interview, the fortune teller took her hand and said, “You are going to marry a man from a foreign country.”
“When I was on assignment for the newspaper in other countries, I kept asking myself, ‘Is this where Romeo lives? ‘” Borsten said. Then, one day, she finds herself with actor Richard Harrison, who lived in Rome. It was there that she met Vidov, who had come to Rome to leave the Soviet Union.
Vidov had been making films since 1961 and was known as “Robert Redford of Russia”. Blond and blue-eyed, with a strong jaw and a steely gaze, he was a textbook idol. Unknown to the American public, he was well known throughout the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc and Japan. He married into a high-ranking Soviet family with ties to USSR General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, but after a bitter public divorce, Vidov’s ex-wife and powerful allies put him on the list of the Soviet film industry and left their mark on it. neyyezdnoy–“not exportable”. He was forbidden to travel abroad.
Vidov’s career suffered, but he still made films in Russia and Yugoslavia, where he had been allowed to live. Then, in May 1985, with the Cold War still raging, he was summoned to Moscow by the KGB and given only 72 hours to conclude his business in Yugoslavia.
Instead, dreading what awaited him if he returned to Russia, Vidov decided to flee. A Yugoslav friend helped him cross to Austria, where he received a 30-day visa. He then moved to Italy, where he hid with Harrison, who took him to the United States Embassy and introduced him to Borsten.
The couple fell in love and moved to the United States, where Vidov became an American citizen, much to the chagrin of the Soviet Union. The couple landed in Los Angeles and made headlines, and Vidov began to rebuild his career, starring in films like red heatwith Arnold Schwarzenegger; wild orchid, with Mickey Rourke and Jacqueline Bisset; and thirteen dayswith Kevin Costner.
Along the way, Vidov and Borsten also acquired the international distribution rights to award-winning animation library Soyuzmultfilm Studio – “the Disney of Russia”, says Borsten – and helped popularize Russian animation around the world. Their projects included animation-based series they digitally restored from the Soyuzmultfilm animation library, including that of Mikhail Baryshnikov Stories from my childhood and Rudyard Kipling The jungle Book. Vidov lived with Borsten in California until 2017 when he died of complications from multiple myeloma. They have been married for 28 of the 32 years they have known each other.
In assembling the cast and crew for the film, Borsten was deliberate in her choices. Nadia Tass, an award-winning filmmaker whose grandparents fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution and raised her in Greece on Russian poetry and art, was brought in to direct. The venerable Brian Cox, who taught acting in Russia for two years, wrote a book about it, then adapted the book for a BBC series, was asked to narrate. And the Russian-Australian actor Costa Ronin, known for his charismatic tricks Americans, Country and End of Game– was chosen to provide Vidov’s voice.
“Oleg’s voice had to be someone with an authentic Russian accent,” says Borsten. “I had a first choice, and it was Costa.”
“It seemed like a very ambitious project,” says Ronin, who along with Borsten attended a screening of Oleg at the Sarasota Film Festival. “It brought a huge responsibility. You’re not just lending your voice to a story, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. I needed to understand not just what Oleg looked like, but what made him. He was the No. 1 star in Soviet Russia who all of a sudden lost everything and couldn’t even find a job. How do you navigate there? I was excited to throw my teeth into it – to do a lot of research to help bring this person back to life who actually lived, so to speak.
Because the film was made during the Covid-19 pandemic, the production posed significant challenges, especially when it came to creating re-enactments. During a pivotal scene that showed Vidov crossing the Yugoslavia-Austria border, Tass was on Zoom in Australia and a team carried out his direction on the ground in Europe while Borsten watched, also on Zoom, from LA
“We were never in the same room,” Ronin explains. “Today Zoom is common sense, but two years ago we were trying to figure out how to do this thing.”
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, but somehow we managed to pull it off,” Borsten says.
For Ronin, the response from people who saw the documentary and passed on positive feedback about his portrayal of Vidov was the biggest reward. “I’m an artist, so what I’m really proud of is that people watch this movie and recognize Oleg in the way I made it sound,” he says. “That’s a huge compliment. It means, to me, if you close your eyes, you don’t hear Costa, you hear Oleg. It means I did my job.
“For me, it’s all about storytelling,” he continues. “My intention is to tell stories honestly and intentionally, not to make them prettier or more palatable. I’ve been very lucky to be part of projects that wanted to tell a story the way it deserves to be told, rather than to support a certain narrative.
The documentary is about an actor whose fans never let him down.
“When we arrived in Los Angeles together, women passed out on the street in front of me,” Borsten says. “That has never changed. At one point we went to a fan club meeting in Israel and a woman came up to us with a picture of Oleg. She had emigrated with it 40 years ago and had slept with it over her bed until her husband told her she had to remove it.”
You don’t know Vidov’s filmography? Start here.
Vidov’s films “still hold up today, even if they’re a bit dated,” says Ronin. “But Chinese district is too, and you’re still looking at it. Here are three movies he and Borsten recommend:
Snow storm (1964)
One of Vidov’s first films, Snow storm is based on a novel by Pushkin about a poor young soldier who falls in love with a rich girl and whose story ends in tragedy. He did this while a student in the acting program of the Soviet State Film Institute, where students were not allowed to perform professionally while studying, and was later expelled .
The Headless Horseman (1972)
The first Soviet western, this film was partially shot in Cuba and based on a book written by an Irish author. “What’s interesting is that the Soviet censors didn’t understand some of the lines in the book that were about Americans wanting to live in a free country, so they let them stay,” Borsten says.
Moscow, my love (1974)
Vidov played the main Russian role with a Japanese love. “It’s the Russian-Japanese version of Love storysays Ronin, “and it shows how much censorship Oleg has had to deal with. »