Ahead of the opening next week of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival, SCREENZ spoke with Nikolay Lebedev, director of the festival’s opening film, Flight Crew. Lebedev was at home in Moscow, where much of Flight Crew was shot.
Flight Crew isn’t the first of Lebedev’s films to make the trip to Australasia, although he’s not making the journey himself for this festival. Soundtrack of Passion and Wolfhound have both played previous festivals in Australia. Lebedev’s last feature, Legend #17, played the 2013 edition of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival. That film and Flight Crew both have Danila Kozlovsky (Hardcore Henry, Vampire Academy) as the lead.
Lebedev’s previous films have collected 15 awards across three Russian awards events, almost half of them – including Lebedev’s first Best Film win – for Legend No. 17.
Flight Crew is an homage to Russian director Aleksandr Mitta’s 1980 film of the same title (Ekipazh / экипаж). Lebedev saw the film in a theatre as a teenager and fell in love with it. It was rare at that time to see contemporary stories told in Russian cinema. “There were a lot of movies about the (Second World) War,” he noted.
Mitta’s 1980 production was also spectacular by Russian standards. Amid all the explosions and special effects work of the disaster film, Lebedev found a moving human story at the heart of it all. The balance between big set pieces and “characters you can feel compassion for” is one of the main things Lebedev tried to hang on to in his own film.
Flight Crew trailer (English subs)
A lot of the detail of the story needed to be updated because of the huge changes Russian society has gone through in the last 35 years. “We were able to use plot details from the original, which is why I call it an homage rather than a remake,” Lebedev said. “I spent two years on the script, and we were in pre-production for six months.”
The film was mostly shot at locations around Moscow, with the Crimea used for the mountainous environment when things heat up in the latter part of the story. “We had huge sets,” Lebedev explained. “Airports, real aircraft. We wanted to do as much of the effects work as we could on camera – the explosions, the destruction. We set fire to a lot.”
The CG work is predominantly for the in-flight events in the story. As the original had been, Lebedev explained, his film was a very complicated production by Russian standards.
The effort has been rewarded. At home it’s played well. Lebedev shared that during its theatrical release Flight Crew had become the second highest-earning Russian title at the Russian box office. It’s now heading for its video release in Russia and has had theatrical releases in China and France. At the Berlinale’s EFM and Cannes Marché it did deals for other territories in Europe and Asia.
Lebedev hasn’t confirmed his next project yet. He’s currently working with script writers, exploring a number of ideas. “It’s important to find the right story,” he said. “The one that you feel for.”
* * *
UPDATE: 22 OCTOBER: The weekend before the opening of the Russian Resurrection Film Festival in Auckland, distributor Central Partnership announced sales to several more territories for Flight Crew