Q and A with Dmitry Saltykovsky, film producer and RTA student

Despite a busy schedule working on the European release of a film and an eight hour time difference, Ryerson Folio was able to ask Dmitry Saltykovsky about a Canadian film that is generating international attention. The fourth-year Ryerson radio and television arts student is the associate-producer of Red Army, a documentary that offers insight into the CSKA Moscow Hockey Club, an organization that was founded in the Soviet Union and is still running today. Saltykovsky is currently working on the release and promotion of the film for North America and Europe but noted that he couldn’t have done what he has with Red Army without the skills he learned during his time at Ryerson in the RTA program.

Q:  What inspired or motivated you to create this film?

A: Gabe Polsky, the director and producer of Red Army, was behind the idea of the film and he’d been inspired by the games that were played by the Soviet Union team, especially the 1987 Canada Cup games, all of which he saw on VHS tapes as a young kid growing up in Chicago. He’s been amazed with the style with which the athletes played and passed the puck and the chemistry, as well as with the history of the country, since the film is set during the Cold War and the last years of the USSR.

Also, the USSR hockey team’s side of the story has never been told before since everyone in North America remembers either the “Miracle on Ice” and how the professionals from USSR lost to college students from Team USA during the Olympics in Lake Placid, or the 1972 Summit series.

It was a combination of many factors that made Gabe Polsky create Red Army. His background was a large influence as well since his parents are from the former Soviet Union and he was able to really go back to his roots.

The key factor for motivation was also to try to show the time and the people through the game of hockey, I think that’s part of the reason why the film looks more like an action movie rather than simply a documentary.

Q: How do you, personally, connect to this film?

A: Personally, I connect partly on the background level since I’m originally from Russia but as well as on the professional since for me, as a producer, it’s important to connect with a story, a script, as only then am I ready to commit and give 100 per cent to a project. Red Army is that type of story.

It is about Russian history that gives an amazing insight into the people running the country today and what has caused the changes in Russia over the past few decades. At the same time, the film has universal themes like brotherhood, betrayal, what’s moral and what’s not – and that is part of the reason why people from across the world can emotionally connect with it. Whether you are Canadian or American, French or Russian, you will be able to connect with the film.

Q: Were there any challenges you faced during the film’s production?

A: A few, as with any documentary it’s hard to predict when the story is going to end. I’ve also worked on another award-winning documentary, Putin’s Kiss, that took us 4 years to complete.

With Red Army, we’ve been filming for two years but only at the very end of the production did we managed to get an interview with Slava Fetisov, who ended up being our main protagonist. He had originally granted us 15 minutes, but that eventually turned into 15 hours of speaking with him.

But then again, only when Gabe had been editing the film had he decided on Fetisov being the main character. The other biggest challenge, perhaps, was to go through the footage at the archives in Moscow that Gabe went to. Since they don’t have anything marked there, they just give you stacks of tapes and you have to go through all of them to find the right footage. As you can see in the film, though, is that we’ve managed to uncover some very rare footage that hasn’t been seen by anyone before.

Q: What was the most rewarding part of the film’s creation or production for you?

A: The most rewarding is always working with the amazing, talented and creative people. You get both to learn a lot as well as apply your skills on high-level productions as this one. The skills that I’ve acquired, in many ways, at Ryerson during my time as an RTA student, are the ones that I was able to draw from for the film’s production.

Talking about people, of course, it was a great experience working hand in hand with a very talented director such as Gabe Polsky, an amazing cinematographer like Peter Zeitlinger, who’s worked with Werner Herzog since 1995, and then having Herzog himself coming in as an executive producer of Red Army. Of course, having a musical masterpiece of a score composed by the famous Canadian film composer, Christophe Beck, was also amazing.

Q: What has your experience been with the film showing at so many prominent film festivals?

A: We are the only documentary this year that has been to five major international film festivals [Cannes, Moscow, Toronto, New York, Telluride], and the reaction at all of the festivals was stunning. It’s important that your film makes people think, analyse and create discussion and we were really fortunate to get so many positive reviews from critics and audiences in different parts of the world.

The screening in Toronto has especially been important for me since the North American premiere of Red Army was at TIFF, and the screening was at Ryerson Theatre with Wayne Gretzky, Scotty Bowman and, of course, the president of Ryerson, Sheldon Levy, in attendance.

The attention towards the film has been amazing and is more than we expected that when we had finished editing the film in the beginning of 2014. Getting Sony Pictures Classics as our distributor was no doubt important to the success of the movie and the world premiere in Cannes. But the work of our dedicated production team was also very important, especially since they continue to promote the film and work to let as many people as possible see Red Army.

Q: If you had to describe the film in one word, what would it be?

A: Faith.

Red Army is currently playing in theatres in Toronto and Vancouver, opening in Montreal on February 27 and later in other cities across Canada. Click here for tickets and schedules.

Photo: Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov. Courtesy of Slava Fetisov/Sony Pictures Classics.