One ironic thing is that although (the Soviet Union) was one of the most oppressive systems, with no respect for the individual, it somehow produced the freest hockey on the planet. These guys, when they got on the ice, it was like watching jazz. They could do anything. I find that a paradox. It’s interesting because I think the North American style was a lot less free. It was not encouraged to be creative.
I’m very excited about some of the novels that I have adapted. I think they’re equally as powerful, if not more. Going After Cacciato (by Tim O’Brien) is something I’m very passionate about.
I speak a little bit of Russian.
Sports is like literature. People watch it and if it’s beautiful and it’s non-violent, whatever messages that you see, people can read into it and say, “Wow! You know what? Whatever they’re doing over there, it’s extraordinary, and maybe that culture is superior to ours in certain ways.”
Anatoli Tarasov, the guy that created the Soviet style of play, was a visionary. He was a creative thinker. He studied ballet and chess and art and read a lot.
A lot of what I know as a filmmaker is because of hockey. That’s teamwork, and being able to collaborate with people, and be creative with them, and get the most out of everybody. Everyone’s got different talents, and you’ve got to bring out the best of everybody, and use your strengths and work together, and try and evolve it rather than do what was done before you, and to push into new areas.
There (in the Soviet Union) it was a science. In order to be a coach, you had to study in school.
In the U.S., coaches could be the father next door. They had no formal training. They’re like old hockey players. They don’t go to school and study.
When I looked into the story of Soviet hockey and its players, I realized that it has nothing to do with hockey. It was a larger story using hockey as a window into the story of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian people, with friendships and betrayals, paranoia and oppression, and the meaning of sports to people and nations around the world, and how sports was used as a political tool.
I guess the prime example is in North America there’s a thing where if there’s no opportunity to move forward with the puck, then a [hockey] player is told to dump the puck into the other zone. Just give up the puck and dump it in. Give it to the other team. And to the Soviet mentality in coaching, it just doesn’t make any sense. If you’re a skilled player, why are you going to give the puck away to the other team? Just give it away, right?
I’ve had a lot of coaches in my life, but I’ve only had a few very good ones. So, I try to take from the best ones and apply those to what I do and think and with anyone I work with in terms of how to motivate people and work with them.
I’m writing and putting together my next few things. Even during the Red Army process, I’ve been writing and developing things, so that now that I’m done and with efforts supporting it throughout this process, I’m armed and ready to go with some things that I’m really passionate about.
If you’re a skilled player, you want to use your skill, not just hit the puck.
I found a lot of stuff that’s never been seen before. That was the goal: to not use cliché Cold War footage but give people a sense of the place and setting. It’s a field you still need. At first it was a lot of fun, and then later it became a little bit intimidating. “Oh my God, I’ve got so much footage. Where am I going to put it? What am I going to do?” I ended up really only reviewing about 20 to 30 percent of what I had. So it was a task.
Growing up, I didn’t know very much about my heritage and the Soviet Union and things of that nature. But when I saw the Soviet Union play hockey for the first time, to me, it was profound.
People think, sports delivers a message. It’s not just about winning and losing, although that’s important. It’s about other things, too. It demonstrates how it can say certain things about your culture and your society.
If people see North American hockey and they see violence and brutality and it’s not so interesting, that sends a message too about your culture.
When people do something extraordinarily well, it’s self-evident. It could be art. It could be a circus, whatever it is, where people are doing incredible things. It’s self-evident. You know that it’s beautiful. You know that it’s very difficult, but it looks easy.
I’m American and I wanted my friend and people to see ‘ Red Army’ . I didn’t want it to be a film for Russia, although I did show it there and they absolutely loved it.
I don’t want to get into being too hockey centered, but I just felt like the late 70’s and 80’s into the 90’s was the right time period to tell the story.
What I found interesting about Slava Fetisov was that he went through three different generations of Soviet hockey. In the late 70’s, he experienced the Miracle on Ice, and then in the 80’s became with his teammates the Russian Five, the most dominant team in the history of hockey, and then helped bring down the hockey system when the Soviet Union collapsed and became one of the first players to play in the NHL, and then ultimately came back to Russia.
My parents are from the former Soviet Union, from Ukraine, and I grew up wanting to be a professional hockey player.