Russia East West

‘How did a bunch of Varangians go from being the Byzantine Emperors right hand to the first men and women in space?’

In the late sixties I started work on the Development Roads in far western Queensland; it was like living the life of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ but caught in a weekend piss up with the characters of ‘Wake in Fright’. Life oscillated between exhilaration and apprehension.

Caught in the middle with us were a whole crew of Russians with their wives, speaking no English for the most part, having been born in Harbin, in China to parents who were escaping the Civil War between the ‘Whites’ and the ‘Reds’. Over 70,000 Russians lived in Harbin then. None live there now.

Those Russians that I first worked with in Australia’s isolated far west lit a forty fuse with me. Looking back it sometimes feels as if we shared time in the same Gulag. I now find myself baptised Russian Orthodox, speaking a little Russian and with a number of distinctly unorthodox adventures there under my belt. With time and experience my fascination increases. Who are these Russians?  Why are they always denigrated in the same stereotypical way?

I’m not the only person fascinated by Russians. The 2010 winner of the Blake Prize, Leonard Brown, is a Russophile.

Then there’s the ‘Russian Resurrection’ Film Festival, the biggest Russian Film Festival in the world outside Russia; and Professor Sasha Grishin of the Australian National University, born in Australia but sent to Moscow ‘for a real education’. And there’s Nick Lazerides, whose every piece about Russia screened on ‘Dateline’ by George Negus, had a spike in ratings.

‘Top Gear’ also had a spike with it’s Russian episode.

And we love our famous Olympic and Commonwealth medalists; our expatriate Russian ones that is. The Americans love theirs too; although the real Russian athletes such as Isenbayeva are banned, seemingly out of spite.

Sergey Brin, born in Moscow co-founded Google. The Brits love theirs when they pick up a Nobel Prize for Physics, but otherwise not.

There are Russians everywhere.

None to trusted; mafiosi and whores, unless they’re on ‘our side’ whatever side that is.

The truth is that there’s an audience that’s hungry for tasty content about Russian culture, and I’m not talking about how to cook Piroshki or make a smashing Vodka in your bathroom.

‘Around the World in 80 Faiths’ spent nearly an episode there.

Every ‘James Bond’ film ever made seems to have an evil Russian in it, although the spy it was modelled on was a Serbian Playboy, Dusko Popov.

I want to make a season series of documentaries on Russia, it’s people and culture. A single pilot would do for starters, but there’s enough interesting material there for about 30 more.

I’d like to visit it’s history, from the Greek and Runic graffiti left on the Empress’ handrail in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, Constantinople, to the beautiful and succinct Cyrillic script that emblazoned Vostok_1 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human being launched into space.

Russia’s 1000 years of history and its vast tracts of wilderness are a barely tapped resource for content.

In the 13th century Russian Princes were elected, and could be unelected too. Alexander Nevsky was one. Eisenstein made a movie about Nevsky. Akira Kurasawa made a movie in Russia too, and won an Oscar with it, ‘Dersu Uzala’ In fact Russians made lots of fabulous movies. They continue to do so. Many of them can be referenced and intercut with contemporary material. The Australian Director Peter Weir shot a film in Russia, and it’s a Russian Story, although it’s a predictably sad one about escaping from a Gulag, and was based on a ‘fake news’.

When war hero Alexander Solzhenitsin had his first book published in Moscow by Novy Mir magazine (New World) he was still stuck in a Gulag.  The editor, Alexander Tvardovsky, was in the habit of reading new scripts in bed at night, and upon starting to read ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ arose, put on in his best suit and went ahead reading the novella, although it was well after midnight.  A work of such merit deserved respect. Then he published it.

I was remembering Alistair Cooke when I first imagined this; a chatty radio format such as Alistairs wouldn’t quite work today but the gist of the idea is there. A contemporary series with the chaos and Joie de Vivre of a Keith Floyd cooking episode would be better. A little bit of the Larrikin and a tiny touch of  David Attenborough would do it nicely.

Issues that are a little bit surprising, or naughty, or holy, or just plain gobsmacking. They’re all there. Russia’s got the lot.

  • The longest highway.
  • The biggest bomb.
  • Some of the most fabulous wilderness.
  • Beautiful women.
  • Tumultuous history.
  • Confrontational politics.
  • But it still has tribal peoples living on their ancestral lands.

Never a question asked.

It’s got the potential for an extremely popular series of 1 hour docos in multi media formats.

Television, Cable, DVD, web TV, Educational.

Across all continents.

And I dream to do it.