How could I describe this transformative, unimaginable trip? I’ve done a lot of traveling, and everywhere I’ve gone, America has always been an aspiration, a dream, an ideal of some sort. Not Russia. They are their own thing, their own world. The Russians don’t look to us, don’t aspire to America. They are internal and inward looking.
History provides the raison d’etre: They’ve spent hundreds of years fighting off invaders without help or allies--- Mother Russia against the world. They have the mentality not of an 800-pound gorilla, but of an 800-pound orphan--- a big enfant terrible with nukes. 25 million lost in WWII. Millions lost through starvation alone, and yet they survived. There are no people on Earth who have suffered like the Russians. It has made them as hard as steel. They view us as spoiled and effete… and they are right; we are compared to them.
In researching Night Witches, the story of the first and only all-female combat unit in the history of warfare, I came to realize that everything the Russian people are was embodied in their valiant service to their nation during WWIIl. The unit was founded by Marina Raskova, the Amelia Earhart of the Soviet Union. Movie star beautiful, dashing and fearless, she attracted hundreds of young girls, teenagers to fly bi-planes reconfigured as bombers.
She died in the middle of the war in a snowstorm. Her remains are buried in the Kremlin wall. I placed flowers there.
Although Marina was the founder of the Night Witches, the star of the movie will be Nadia Popova, the most decorated pilot. Her son, General Aleksandr Kharlamov, and grandson, also named Aleksandr, were kind enough to visit with us when we were in Moscow. We visited Nadia and her husband Semyon’s gravesite at Novodevichy cemetery (their version of Arlington National Cemetery). Pretty cool. I love how ornate and artistic their gravesites are. It really brings the deceased to life.
This is me with my Russian American producer, Matt Geller. He put this deal together and I am in his debt for that. Writing Night Witches has been a dream for me: history, war, triumph, love, loss—it covered a range of the human condition.