- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

MOSCOW

A nerdy American entomologist hunting for a rare butterfly is the central character of a new film offering the Kremlin’s version of the August war with Georgia.

With no clear consensus on who started the war, the Kremlin is determined to show that it sent troops into the breakaway region of South Ossetia in response to a Georgian attack. Georgia accuses Russia of attacking first.

The action-packed movie, “Olympius Inferno,” first broadcast Sunday on state television, has anti-American overtones reflecting Russia’s anger over U.S. support for Georgia.

The film is part of a broader government campaign to encourage and finance the production of patriotic films. In recent years, the Kremlin has taken a greater role in film projects and remains the country’s largest film producer.

In October, Russian television showed a documentary titled “The Art of Betrayal,” which accuses Georgia of crimes against humanity and suggests that U.S. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a presidential hopeful at the time, stood behind the conflict as part of his election campaign.

The director of the new film makes no excuses.

“Any film made by serious producers is already a propaganda leaflet,” Igor Voloshin says, pointing to the “Die Hard” movies starring Bruce Willis, whose character thwarts terrorist plots against the United States.

In Mr. Voloshin’s movie, a Russian-born American insect expert named Michael (played by Israeli actor David Henry) arrives in South Ossetia with night-vision video cameras to document the night life of rare butterflies. Instead, his cameras capture Georgian troops crossing into South Ossetia.

Michael and a former classmate, a blond Russian photojournalist named Zhenya (Polina Filonenko), flee a trigger-happy Georgian captain sent to get the video footage. In the end, Zhenya convinces Michael that they have to get the footage to the media so the world will learn the truth about the war.

Michael’s character plays on anti-American stereotypes. He disrespects local traditions and is frightened after hearing gunshots.

Throughout the film, Russian and South Ossetian characters throw out accusations of U.S. involvement in the conflict, characterized as part of an effort to weaken Russia.

Mr. Henry, the Israeli actor, says there is nothing wrong with the film having a political agenda. “Everything is about information warfare,” he tells Associated Press.

The film was promoted heavily and ran on state-owned Channel One with no commercial breaks.

“This is the right moral position of the channel, which decided not to make money on this topic,” says Mr. Voloshin, the director. He refuses to disclose the budget for the film, saying only that it exceeded $1 million.

Georgian officials criticized the film.

“Those who made it should be ashamed,” said Temuri Yakobashvili, the government minister for reintegration of South Ossetia. Russia has recognized the region’s independence despite strong Western criticism.

South Ossetian authorities also were not enthusiastic.

“We are not delighted,” South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva told AP. “It’s a film about South Ossetia without South Ossetians participating in it.”

She said the separatist region was still waiting for “an objective and interesting film about the war.”

Russian media have reported that award-winning Serbian film director Emir Kusturica agreed to make a documentary on the war after a meeting with Russian officials in December.

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