You can’t really go wrong with the army on your side

by Kaori Shoji

Talking with Yevgeni Lavrentyev is like walking into a Tolstoy novel: The characters will launch into monologues that can take up an entire page, but ultimately they have their own agenda on what to say, or not.

The 33-year-old writer/director of “Countdown” is wonderfully laconic and at the same time verbose. He will readily say he voted for Russian President Vladimir Putin and how he agrees wholeheartedly with the Russian government’s military policies. He did, however, evade the question of how he feels about Chechnya.

This work was made with the full support (financial and otherwise) of the Russian military — so Chechnya, unsurprisingly, is a no-go topic.

Was it difficult to make such a large-scale action movie in a film industry that has practically no history or experience in the genre.

Well, having to be on the set with all those explosions and planes blowing up was quite horrifying. Like being in a war zone, only without having to fight.

How did you get involved in the project?

I used to work for a film-production company and they called and asked whether I would be interested. They described the movie as something completely new in the Russian film industry, with the unprecedented budget of the equivalent of $7 million. Naturally, I was happy to have been approached and consented immediately.

Is the Russian film industry now favorable to making Hollywood-like movies such as this one?

I would say yes. Up until 2004, it wasn’t like that. Russians watched U.S. and European imported films because those were the ones that opened in theaters and we were conditioned to think that the domestic stuff didn’t quite cut any ice against those more glamorous rivals. And it’s true that there were a lot of bad Russian movies, simply because there was no competition within the industry.

But in 2004, all of that changed because we adopted a movie distribution system, just like in other countries. After that, Russian movies started coming into theaters. The inferior works are now being filtered out.

Did you consider it a personal risk to make a movie that was so pro-Russian government, especially after the Chechnya terrorist attacks?

Not really. I admit to being pro-Russian government and that’s one of the reasons they gave me this job. And we wouldn’t have had the full financial support and cooperation from the military if this was a project with leftist sentiments. But then that goes for other countries too, doesn’t it? If you want the military’s support, then you must act accordingly.

However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t make liberal/leftist movies in Russia. As long as one has the cash, then it’s OK to make whatever one wishes. That cash may be hard to come by, but the equation still holds. I would just like to say, however, that “Countdown” is an entertainment film. I hope people will watch it for its entertainment value, not for its politics.

Real weapons and military machinery was used on-set. How was that insured?

It wasn’t. Russia doesn’t have the same insurance system as the rest of the world; in fact, the very concept of insurance is still in the very early stages. We did, however, ask the entire cast to sign up for life insurance. Things were getting dangerous out there.

Do you think you’ll ever work in Hollywood?

Of course, if there’s an opportunity to do so. I think that with “Countdown,” I was able to show the world what Russian movies have become capable of, and that I have the Hollywood methodology down, and can pull off something on this scale. That was good for me. And right now, I have an offer from AMedia, which is a Russian movie company financed by Sony Pictures. So we’ll see how it goes.

Read the movie review:
“Countdown”
Dying hard for the motherland