Werner Herzog collaborator Spring Films plots ambitious project.


UK documentary producer and director André Singer (The Act Of Killing) has revealed he is working on an ambitious new project about iconic former Russian statesman Mikhail Gorbachev and his role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

Singer, the regular Werner Herzog collaborator who produces under the banner of London-based Spring Films, unveiled the project – titled The Enigma Of Mikhail Gorbachev – as one of the central pitches at Sunny Side Of The Doc (SSD) on Tuesday (June 20). 

The feature documentary and series will focus on Gorbachev’s six-year reign as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1985 to 1991, during which time his policies of “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring) hastened the dissolution of the Soviet Union, fall of Russian-style communism and the end of the Cold War. 

“There’s a surprising amount of material about Gorbachev in film but there has not been a proper look at the man himself and what made him tick in those extraordinary six years when he changed the course of the world and 20th century,” Singer told Screen.

“He came to power as the youngest man in the politburo and ended up participating in the end of the Russian Empire and the independence of all the Soviet satellites. It’s a phenomenal story that we all know a bit about but there has been nothing going behind-the-scenes about the man himself.”

Gorbachev, reveals Singer, has recently moved back to Russia having lived for a time in Germany. Spring Films is currently in negotiations with The Gorbachev Foundation for a series of interviews with elderly former statesman that will be at the heart of the work.

“He is 86, rather frail and doesn’t travel very much anymore,” said Singer. “This is probably the last chance for him to be able to talk about those events and for us to get other people like John Major and James Baker who dealt with him… it’s somewhat urgent.”

Alongside these interviews, Spring Films has also obtained verbatim politburo descriptions and transcripts of conversations between Gorbachev and a number of world leaders.

“It’s early days and I don’t want to be too prescriptive but we’ll probably present these exchanges as voice re-enactments. We have stuff with [Ronald] Reagan, [Margaret] Thatcher and John Major. Obviously, our priority will be available film and sound recordings but these transcripts are extraordinary.”

The project will mark a fourth time in the director’s chair for Singer after his award-winning Holocaust work Night Will Fall and the more recent Where The Wind Blew about Soviet nuclear tests in Kazakhstan.

The Gorbachev project grew out of German state broadcaster ARD’s initiative to invest €4m in development grants to production companies with a strong track-record in producing outstanding films for them. ARD and Spring Films previously collaborated on Night Will Fall.

“We were one of the lucky few non-German companies to win a grant and this started a conversation about projects. The initial inspiration for the film came from them,” said Singer.

The Enigma of Mikhail Gorbachev is among 47 documentary and factual content projects from 20 countries being presented at the 28th edition of SSD as part of its 2017 Pitch Selection.

Singer is hoping to attract one or two new co-production partners to accompany ARD on the project through the pitch. 

Research and development has already begun with Spring Films MD and producer Richard Melman assigned to the project alongside Russian-British producer Svetlana Palmer, whose credits include The Cold War and The Second World War In Colour.

“Development is in full flood. If we can get support from another one or two co-production partners, we should be able to go into production by September.

Singer wants the film to be ready by end-2018 so it can be rolled-out at festivals and theatrically ahead of the 30th anniversary in November 2019 of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the most symbolic events in the fall of the Soviet bloc.

He adds it remains to be seen how many Russian figures will agree to participate in the work. 

“What slightly shocks me is how much he is reviled by the Russians who see him as having given away their empire while he is admired from the outside for ending the communist autocracy.”