Sponsored Project

The Oleg Vidov Story (working title)

Director(s):
Joan Borsten Vidov
Producer(s):
Joan Borsten Vidov

This 90 minute documentary will include film from Oleg Vidov’s most important American and Soviet movies, clips from interviews on more than a dozen Russian talk shows and American programs such as Entertainment Tonight and The Larry King Show, as well as interviews filmed in the last 8 months by Vidov’s wife, journalist Joan Borsten Vidov, with his co-stars and directors from numerous countries, and film of Vidov traveling in the US, Russia, France, Denmark and Cuba. It will include a nuanced and honest look at the most positive and negative aspects of life in the USSR which, during the 70 years of its existence, turned a mostly illiterate country literate, while attempting to control the thoughts and movements of its people. The production crew is led by Borsten Vidov, and includes award-winning feature filmmaker Nadia Tass, Oscar-winning filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya, and Hallmark Channel executive producer Seth Isler.
May 24, 1985: Soviet heartthrob Oleg Vidov called his trusted friend Marian Srienc and uttered a prearranged code word. Less than two years after Oleg had managed to get himself legally out of the USSR, he had suddenly, ominously been summoned to the Yugoslavian Interior Ministry. The Soviet government wanted him back in Moscow.  Vidov was given 72 hours to close his affairs and return.
Srienc was a Slovene, a member of a small Slavic ethnic group that lived near the border between Yugoslavia and Austria. It’s only professional actor, he and Vidov had bonded while working together on several Yugoslavian films and, on the signal, he willingly boarded the next flight to Belgrade. At great risk, Srienc smuggled the very recognizable Vidov into the Austrian Embassy, where Srienc’s special contact, Valentin Inzko, also a Slovene, was posted as a press attache.  Inzko know of Vidov’s fame, as a Russian speaker and having served as a diplomat in Mongolia. The Cold War still raged, but based on Srienc’s assurances, he convinced the Austrian Consul General to stamp a 30-day visitor’s visa into Vidov’s Soviet passport.Vidov was extremely well-known throughout eastern Europe, as the first Soviet movie star to appear in a western film, and for his numerous mega-hit Soviet movies. As a young man he married into the family of USSR Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev’s inner circle, but found himself politically out of favor when his vengeful his ex-wife arranged to black-list him from the Soviet film industry’s A-list and branded with the dreaded assignation “nevyezdnoy” which means unexportable. (This is the same unofficial status that led ballet stars Alexander Gudinov and Rudolph Nureyev to defect.)By this time Vidov had made dozens of films in Russia and Yugoslavia, including the highly regarded “Battle of the River Neretva” an epic nominated for the 1969 Best Foreign Film Oscar, co-starring Yul Brynner, Orson Wells, Christopher Plummer and Franco Nero.   Srienc and Vidov secretly flew to the Yugoslavian border city of Ljubljana, where Srienc’s wife, Maria, met them by car, a red Mercedes he frequently used to cross in and out of Yugoslavia. Together they drove to the Yugoslavian-Austrian border with two plans to make their escape to the west. Since Vidov did not have an exit visa for the West, they considered waiting until the early morning and attempt to run the 1000 feet into Austria. The other plan was to try to reason with the Yugoslavian border guards, based on Vidov’s celebrity fame.
As it happened the guards were themselves busy watching a soccer game on television. At the precise moment they approached the boarder, Zagreb scored a goal and the cheering guards waved the familiar Red Mercedes through, without looking inside. And with that, the international film star Oleg Vidov had defected from the Soviet Union. With additional help from the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko  he was issued travel documents that let him cross into Italy, where he stayed in the Rome apartment of his friend, US actor Richard Harrison. Harrison personally took Vidov to the US Embassy in July 1985 and he became the first prominent Soviet actor ever to defect.   Two months later he was in Hollywood.  It was at Harrison’s home that he met his wife journalist Joan Borsten Vidov who he convinced to give up her job and follow him to the US.  Vidov passed in May, 2017 from complications of multiple myeloma after living in the United States for 32 years. Among his private letters, art collection, and priceless photographs was an elegantly written, mostly completed autobiography with instructions to Borsten Vidov on how to finish it. This films follows her journey as she documents Vidov’s rise to fame in the USSR, from his birth during World War II and the rule of Josef Stalin, to his acceptance at the Soviet State Film School. It looks at how he became the first Soviet actor allowed to star in a western film, the inner workings of the corrupt, but sometimes brilliantly creative, Soviet film industry, and his devastating political marriage. It exposes the culture of corruption of the era, the secret life of the political and cultural elites, and traces his dramatic escape.  It will also show Vidov as a hugely successful businessman, cultural ambassador, and leader of the Russian immigrant community.   

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