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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."