Russia competes with Tom Cruise and Musk for first space movie
Six decades after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth, which earned Moscow a key victory in the Cold War, Russia is once again in a space race with Washington.
This time, the stakes are a bit more glitzy.
On October 5, one of Russia’s most famous actresses, Yulia Peresild, 36, flies to the International Space Station (ISS) with director Klim Shipenko, 38.
Their mission? Shoot the first film in orbit before the Americans.
If their plan comes to fruition, the Russians should beat Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise and Hollywood director Doug Liman, who were the first to announce their plans with NASA and Space X, the company of billionaire Elon Musk.
“I really want us to be not only the first but also the best,” Peresild told AFP, as time is running out until take-off scheduled for October 5 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The call – the working title of the Russian project – was announced in September last year, four months after the Hollywood project.
But aside from his big ambitions, little is known about the film.
– Doctor Who? –
His plot, which was kept secret by the crew and the Russian space agency, was revealed by Russian media to present a doctor urgently sent to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.
The Call’s budget was also not disclosed. But it’s no secret that traveling in space is an expensive endeavor: a seat on a Soyuz rocket bound for the ISS typically costs NASA tens of millions of dollars.
Hinting at the aesthetic direction of the film, a big name on the credit list is Konstantin Ernst, the 60-year-old manager of the openly Kremlin-friendly Channel One television channel.
Ernst staged some of the most important moments in recent Russian political history and President Vladimir Putin’s career: military parades, inaugurations, the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
Dmitry Rogozin, the Frankish chief of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, will also appear in the credits in cinemas across the country.
He’s not known for his notoriety in the film industry, but rather for chairing a stagnant and corrupt agency – and for publicly fighting Musk on Twitter.
– ‘Propaganda tool’ –
For Rogozin, 57, the film is a way to project stature as Roscosmos loses ground in technological advancement compared to its American rivals.
But it is also part of a geopolitical battle in which his country is engaged with Washington, according to a recent interview he gave to a Moscow tabloid.
“Cinema has long become a powerful propaganda tool,” he told the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in June.
His assessment of the role of cinema comes at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington have frayed to the point of resembling the stalemate of the Cold War.
Rogozin said in the interview that Cruise and Liman initially approached Roscosmos in early 2020 to collaborate on the film.
But, he said, anonymous “political forces” made them give up the idea of working with the Russians.
“I understood after that that space is a big policy,” he told the newspaper. “It was then that an idea appeared to make the film”.
Cruise representatives did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.
– “Not a superhero” –
In preparation for this 21st century space race, Peresild has been undergoing intensive training since the end of May at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, near Moscow.
When she confided in AFP, she had already managed the centrifuge and was going to be trained to survive in hostile environments when it fell back to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on October 17.
Yet she is focused on the task at hand.
The tiny ISS film set will be a stimulating workspace, especially for the director, who will also take care of the cameras, lighting, sound and makeup.
“We’re going to have to film in space what it is not possible to shoot on Earth,” she said.
Peresild said that unlike many other Soviet children who grew up with the exploits of Gagarin, she never dreamed of going to space.
She admits being “scared” when she was selected for the job from a pool of 3,000 applicants.
“I’m not a superhero,” she told AFP.
She said she was inspired by the children involved in her Galchonok foundation which supports young people with disabilities.
“For them, taking a spoon is like going into space for me.”
They “must believe in the impossible”.
© 2021 AFP