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Peeter Rebane, director/co-writer of Firebird

Roadside Attractions releases Firebird on April 29th, 2022 at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

NYC MOVIE GURU:What was the process like to decide what to omit from Sergey Fetisov's memoir The Story of Roman?

Peeter Rebane: First of all, it's such a responsibility to tell somebody's true story and to tell it in a way that's also engaging. We had to omit a lot of bits in the story which would have slowed it down. I could've easily have made a 4-hour movie about his life, but that was probably one of the toughest choices. After the army, he goes home to visit his mother. Then there's the amazing relationship that he had with her in real life and how he cared for her. We had to sacrifice it because I think that 1 hour and 47 minutes is already long enough. Secondly, I looked at his memoir with the perspective: "Ok, this is a guy who 20-something years later looks back at his youth. What did he omit? What did he forget or not talk about or didn't want to talk about?" Thirdly, he clearly still felt a bit bitter about Luisa. Our challenge was to bring her perspective in on a more equal basis because I truly believe that she wasn't an obstacle to their love, but more of an equally tragic sufferer in this story. She didn't knowingly choose such a family life. The film really starts and ends with the friendship between Luisa and Sergei and how that friendship is betrayed and changes.

NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that truly special effects are everything related to humanism that's intangible, like feelings. Do you agree?

PR: I 100% agree. For me, the toughest learning curve on this film was actually creating some of the Soviet Air Force Base actual visual effects. I totally love human stories, the nuances between people, the looks and the chemistry between people. That's something that I was fortunate to work with Tom Prior on. He's such a subtle and nuanced actor who could bring that to the screen. I think he did an amazing job at capturing it. There was no language for such love. He didn't talk about it. It was all in the physical performance and interactions.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to capture that humanism?

PR: One of my biggest lessons in making Firebird, my first feature film, is trusting my feelings and not being okay with anything that doesn't feel right, even if everyone says that it's good enough. If Tom comes and says, "No, I can do better. It doesn't feel like I'm there.", I think that's really the biggest lesson.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for opening the window into a character's heart, mind and soul?

PR: Film, for me, is a collaborative process between me, as a writer, director, the actors and the rest of the crew. It's really as good as the weakest member of the team. You have one vision of writing it. Then on the set, the actors and the team bring new visions that you integrate and then you go to editing and you see third possibilities. Then you play the film to an audience. So, in a way, I think that everyone opens the window. It's really this collaborative process that flows organically. I think that if a film is successful, then also the audience will lead out different things. I've had so many straight women come to me in tears after the screenings. We've been to 55 film festivals now and it's been amazing to see the different reactions. They told me how this film brought up memories of how their husband cheated on them with another woman, which I would've never even imagined could be the relatability of the story when writing and directing it.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you get the chance to meet Sergey Fetisov? What advice would you have given the real-life Roman if you had met him?

PR: We had the amazing opportunity to meet Sergey Fetisov and to interview him before he passed away. We spent 3 days with him and then a year later we went to his funeral with Tom which was a very touching experience. He actually gave very simple advice to us. First he said, "Please make this film about love, not politics.", which I trust and hope that we honor. Secondly, he said that the youth in the current day, which was 4 years ago, are so concerned about getting things and having things. They forget the other person and the importance of human connection and the importance of loving somebody. It still touches me because it's so easy, even in my own life, to get into this wheel of running around and actually forgetting it. To have these values in your life which he managed, but Roman didn't manage, I don't know what advice I would've given Roman because he faced an impossible dilemma. He could never have lived openly and according to his heart and be a fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force. Those 2 things don't go together today, either. In that society, it really hasn't changed as we've seen in the last 6 weeks. It's as evil as it used to be, sadly.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be accurate to say that water is a metaphor in Firebird? Was that your intention?

PR: It's totally unconscious. There are few people, maybe one person before has said that, which made me also think how water is, indeed, through the film, a tying element. We start in the sea. We have the first intimate scene in the sea. We have the rain washing away, and at the end we're at the frozen sea. In a way, it mimics the emotions and the journey of Sergei, but it's all, kind of, organic and not intellectually planned.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Firebird has plenty of visual poetry. Poetry is often a form of protest. What do you think Firebird is a protest for or against?  

PR: Our slogan says, "Fight for love." It's really a film for love. It's not against anything; it's for love. I think that the importance of, even in this day and age, I was shocked when I read about Florida a couple of months ago. I thought that it was somebody's bad joke, but when the legislature in Florida passes a law that you can't tell people in school about two people loving each other like that, that makes no sense. It's bizarre. It's beyond ridiculous. Why are we occupying ourselves with a matter of who is allowed to love whom? We have so many other issues to focus on in modern society. I think that that's the reason why I make films and why I really resonated with this story.

NYC MOVIE GURU: I'd argue that Firebird is a protest against dehumanization. What do you think?

PR: That's a good way of putting it.

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