“Operation Wedding” competing for Best Documentary at IFFNY

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov is a filmmaker, Director and Editor. Anat studied filmmaking in London Film School. Born in Israel to Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov, leading characters of the Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair, it became a long-standing ambition for Anat to tell the story of her parents in the medium of film and she is now developing a script for a feature film based on her father’s book “Prison Diaries” and her documentary “Operation Wedding”.

Her debut feature documentary “Operation Wedding” had won 12 awards was critically acclaimed and have been shown in Israel, Europe, North America and Asia.

“Operation Wedding” has been accepted at IFFNY and it will screen on Sunday, May 27, 2018 at 2:00pm at Producers Club Theatres (358 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036).

Anat Zalmanson Kuznetsov -- Picture credit Krists Luhaers

Anat Zalmanson Kuznetsov. Picture credit Krists Luhaers

Meet the Artist: NY Elite Interview with  filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov

NY Elite: Congratulations on being an official selection at the prestigious International Filmmaker Festival of New York. What are your thoughts about being accepted at IFFNY 2018 film festival and having your film screen in New York City?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: I am very happy and honored that ‘Operation Wedding” was selected by IFFNY!

“Operation Wedding” intertwined with Israeli and American history as countries of the Free World joined together in the Struggle to Free Soviet Jews. It turned out to be the most successful human rights movement in a sense that it actually succeeded completely and today there is no emigration problems from Russia.

There is a strong connection to NYC in the film, as you will see many archives filmed in the city.

NY Elite: Out of the 500 submissions world-wide, your film was selected as the top 40 for IFFNY. What does this mean for you in terms of representing your country/city at this international film competition?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: When I just started working on the film in 2012, I could already imagine the end credits running and the cinemas filled. My heart would raise faster and if you saw me walking down the street, I was smiling as I am in love. I felt like I am finally doing what I was supposed to do, it was my film to be made. Today, after years of hard work, and especially since I put my heart and soul in this one hour film, when the film is accepted by others, when we are applauded, receiving awards, it reminds me of how I felt when I just got started. I am humbled and appreciate the opportunity to represent Israel in IFFNY.

NY Elite: With what project are you partaking at IFFNY 2018? What is it about?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: “Operation Wedding” is not a film about a happy wedding, it’s a documentary about how my parents and their friends tried to “hijack” an empty plane to escape the Soviet Union, after being denied exit visas in 1970. Up until 1991, in order to leave the USSR an exit visa was required, which most people were refused.

It started as a fantasy, Operation Wedding, as outrageous as it was simple: Under the disguise of a trip to a local family wedding, the group members would buy every ticket on a small 12-seater plane, so there would be no passengers but them, no innocents in harm’s way. The group’s pilot would take over the controls and fly the 16 runaways into the sky, over the Soviet border, on to Sweden, bound for Israel.
Caught by the KGB a few steps from boarding, they were sentenced to long years in the gulag and two were sentenced to death; my father Edward Kuznetsov and the group’s pilot Mark Dymshis. They never got on a plane.

I’m revealing the full story from a personal point of view: travelling back to the airport, the prison in former USSR with my mother, collage of reenactments made in both Russia and Israel, as well as rare interviews with KGB generals.

CREDIT Franz Koch- Courtesy of Israel Broadcasting Author

CREDIT Franz Koch- Courtesy of Israel Broadcasting Author

NY Elite: Who else is involved in the making of this project? Tell us a little bit more about the story and who is in it.  

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: So many people are involved in making this film. It was thanks to crowd-funding campaign that I could get started. After almost two years, I was lucky to meet the Israeli Producer, Sasha Klein and then accepted to production with Israeli Broadcasting Authority and Latvia Film Center with Latvian Producer Guntis Treteris.

At first, I thought I would just make a regular history film: interviewing people combined with archives. However, after a while not succeeding with this pitch, I started to realize that this is a personal story. I am not a journalist going to interview strangers, these are my parents. Though I knew about this story from the age of five, I only learned about it from teachers and people in the street, news segments, articles all calling my parent’s heroes. That all I knew, “heroes”. I never thought about the price they had to pay. I think I must have cried almost every day while working on the film. Every time I received a new archive and when we were editing especially. 

NY Elite: What message do you want to convey with this project?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: The film and the story are really about the power of an individual to make a real change, even over tyranny. It also reminds us the importance and strength of solidarity and how we can achieve positive change without violence and that “there is no ideal worth chopping off your head for” as my father says in the film.  

Though the word “hijacking” has a very negative association, in this case the group bought all the tickets and did not attempt to harm or threat people; it was a non-violent protest, risking only themselves. The group members had to pay a heavy price but thanks to this event, the Soviets started releasing people.

While in the 1960’s less than 4,000 people were allowed to leave the USSR, in the 1970’s right after the trial, about 400,000 people were allowed to leave. 300,000 were Jews who suffered from anti-Semitism. Though there were still many people trapped behind the “Iron Curtain” until 1991, the fact that some people were sacrificing themselves and that countless of people in the free world were demonstrating for Soviet Jews every single day for over 20 years – got real results. I find that extremely inspiring and encouraging. 

NY Elite: The Red Carpet Opening Ceremony and the Awards Gala will take place at the renowned Kaufman Astoria Studios of New York. Do you plan to attend the IFFNY Festival taking place on May 25-29, 2018? What do you want the audience at IFFNY to take away from this film?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: I am sorry I will not be able to attend. I have a Europe Film Tour scheduled for that week. It was scheduled before I was notified that “Operation Wedding” was accepted to IFFNY.  I will be there in spirit and you will see me on screen, as I am in the film myself.

However, I do have a very good replacement for the closing ceremony: my uncle, Israel Zalmanson, who was a group member of “Operation Wedding” and spent 8 years in Gulag, will be there to represent the film.

NY Elite: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: I can tell if the movie is great or not from the very first shot, music and sound. I like to be swept away with the story and forget about everything else, forget about time. It is rare, though.

I am drawn especially to films that show different point of views or play with the concept of chronology. For documentaries, authenticity is the most important thing for me.

NY Elite: What are your career highlights and achievements thus far?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: Making “Operation Wedding” was probably one of my life’s missions. For now, it was the first major project and now I am addicted and want to do once again, something as important. However, this feeling is also holding me back. I hope the highlight of my career is still ahead of me.

NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: I write, I edit music videos, I dance Lindy Hop (Swing) and blues. 

NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: This advice I would give my younger self, something I did not realize until 5 years ago: presentation/pitching is as important as making the film itself.

Since directors are visionaries, we can imagine how something will be when it’s finished. But when you submit to foundations, do not expect them to see what you see.

NY Elite: What’s next for you?

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov: I am working on a drama feature film based on the documentary!  We have a very talented scriptwriter and the support of the Israeli Film Fund. Now we are looking for partners.

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