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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

     

     

     

     

    Blogs

    African Music Treasures