News / Arts & Entertainment

Disparate Group Makes Remarkable Escape from Siberian Prison Camp in 'The Way Back'

Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess and Saoirse Ronan in 'The Way Back'
Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess and Saoirse Ronan in 'The Way Back'

Multimedia

Audio
Alan Silverman

The controversial account of a remarkable escape from a Siberian prison camp during World War II is the inspiration for a new film directed and co-written by six-time Oscar nominee Peter Weir. Here's a look at The Way Back.



"I have to get back."
"Go over the Himalayas? How?"
"We walk."


On a wintry day in 1940 Siberia, seven prisoners slip out of a Soviet Union 'Gulag' prison camp into a swirling blizzard that masks their escape. It is the beginning of an astounding year-long journey that takes them - on foot - some 6,500 kilometers across frozen tundra, scorching desert and treacherous mountains.

The disparate group includes a criminal, a priest, Polish war veterans, an actor and an American engineer. Once out of the labor camp, they must survive in the barren landscape and helping even other starving travelers could risk their own lives.

"Are you planning on surviving on half-rations, son?"
"He's an old man."
"I'm an old man. We will be alive in the morning. He won't. Kindness: that can kill you here."


Jim Sturgess as Janusz in The Way Back
Jim Sturgess as Janusz in The Way Back

Jim Sturgess plays Janusz, a Polish Army veteran whose wilderness skills prove vital to the group's survival. The English actor says he discovered the key to portraying his character when he met former prisoners of the Gulag.

"What is great about doing an historical film is that there is information - real accounts and real stories," notes Sturgess. "I was so lucky to spend time with real survivors of the camps: real Polish people who are now living in England. I tracked those guys down and one guy not only was a survivor of a camp, but an escapee. To meet a real escapee who was Polish who was out in Siberia working on building the trans-Siberian railway, who broke out and he survived: there was proof that he did it."

<

Ed Harris as 'Mr. Smith' in The Way Back
Ed Harris as 'Mr. Smith' in The Way Back

Ed Harris plays the enigmatic 'Mr. Smith,' an American engineer who went to the Soviet Union to help build the Moscow Metro system, but ended up a prisoner in Siberia. Harris says his research for the role revealed details of a history few Americans know today.

"I had absolutely no idea of not just Siberia, but the extent of the Gulag system,' Harris says. "From the end of the Russian revolution to 1955 [a couple of years after Stalin died] there were thousands of these places and 18 - 20 million people went through the Gulag system. And I had no idea about the Americans that had gone over - thousands of them. There was a Russian trade agency that advertised in the States in the early part of 1931 and in the first eight months of the year they had 100,000 applicants for jobs in Russia. There were 13 million unemployed in America with 20% unemployment in America and farmers, doctors, lawyers, engineers - a lot of people went over there [and] couldn't get back."

Co-writer and director Peter Weir on the set of The Way Back
Co-writer and director Peter Weir on the set of The Way Back

The Way Back is inspired by the international best seller The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, first published 55 years ago. The author, Slavomir Rawicz, claimed the novel was based on his personal experiences, but years later unsealed records of the former Soviet Union contradicted his story. The controversy intrigued and challenged the film's co-writer and director, Peter Weir.

"I nearly turned it down," admits Weir. "I loved the book - its epic dimension both of the human spirit and landscapes - and then discovered I hadn't been told that there was a doubt that the author had made the walk. So I asked 'what about the walk itself?' The producers said 'we're not sure.' So I said 'unless I can determine that the walk actually happened, I can't do it; because if the walk happened I can fictionalize it and be inspired by the book and dedicated it to 'unknown escapees' - which is what I did - but if I can't prove the walk then, unfortunately, I'm out.' Anyway, we did get that proof and I was able to carry on, re-titled it and felt somewhat freer, actually. I could pretty much re-do it [because] what was left was the walk itself."

Scene from The Way Back
Scene from The Way Back

The international cast of The Way Back includes English stage and screen actor Mark Strong as the prisoner who plans the escape. Dubliner Colin Farrell is a hardened criminal who joins the breakout and young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays a clever teenaged street urchin who becomes part of the group on their long walk to freedom. The Way Back uses locations in Bulgaria and Morocco to stand in for the forbidding landscapes of Siberia and the Gobi Desert.

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."