Have you ever met a steely eyed, cold hearted, absolutely no nonsense, not to be messed with in any circumstances, especially if you think the ability to walk is important-type gangster from Siberia? You know – the kind who gives you butterflies when they laugh in that reptilian way they do? (Which, granted is not often.) And who really, really, really don’t like when you chance – with the greatest of diplomatic delicacy – the opportunity to tell them what to do?
Well, I have.
And I’ve even made a film about him.
The city of Ussuriysk, in Siberia, is located on the road that passes from the eastern port of Vladivostok, through the heart of Russia, all the way to Moscow. It’s an important road because all of the new Japanese and Korean cars sold throughout Russia are first transported down it.
It turns out to be very useful if you are the boss of a criminal gang controlling a bit of that road. Because you can make it worth everyone’s while to allow you to steal a small – but very lucrative – percentage of the new cars passing through your territory.
Vitaly Dymotchka, the subject of my film, was that boss. But what made him especially interesting was not his successful criminal past. It was the fact that he was hoping to make a career change.
He was tired of making crime pay.
He wanted to go legit, to write, produce and direct an action packed, blood filled TV series that glorified his days in organised crime, starring himself…
As The Steely Eyed, Charismatic, Cruel but Fair and Incidentally Very Attractive To Scantily Clad Women Gang Boss…
Costarring his own Muscle Bound Enforcer Flunkies as… Muscle Bound Enforcer Flunkies.
I flew to Siberia to document Vitaly shooting his newest TV drama, which told the exciting backstory of how he became the Leader. Which enabled me to also tell the story about how perestroika unwittingly led to a Russia controlled by gangsters, from small timers like Vitaly, all the way up to the Oligarchs and the big man himself, President Putin.
Unfortunately, I had two problems. The Russian cameraman I hired (out of a misguided and stupidly idealistic desire to emulate Tarkovsky) turned out to be a bitter alcoholic who only wanted to shoot things his way. Da? Nyet! (He didn’t believe in wide shots on TV.) While I was fighting that struggle, I also had to fight Vitaly’s absolute inability to take any type of direction – no matter how small — from anyone who was not Vitaly.
In any case, it could have been great. Was it? Not really. But I think it’s pretty interesting, nonetheless.
That said, I’ve been told by a mutual acquaintance that Vitaly thinks he would have done a much better job with the film if he had been the director.