There’s no one way to make a fact-based film, as 2018 has shown. From the satiric heights of The Death of Stalin to the self-parodic depths of Gotti, and with many major contenders to come (Bohemian Rhapsody, Beautiful Boy, Welcome To Marwen), all have different goals, from education, to poetic re-imaginings of familiar tales, to outright entertainment.
There are far more stories to tell than there is time to tell them, but there are a few episodes from history that are ripe with potential, and are glaringly omitted from the cinematic canon. Here are two fact-based films we’re desperate to see made:
The Yerevan Heist
Though we may tend to think of Soviet authorities as stodgy men who were overly fond of pinning military medals on themselves, there was a time when the Bolsheviks were a hardscrabble, rough-and-tumble bunch, being sent into exile for organizing a strike or distributing their newspaper illegally in Tsarist Russia. There were even a few high-profile bank robberies, the most daring of which was the 1907 heist in Yerevan Square, Tiflis, Georgia (now Tbilisi) of a stagecoach carrying hundreds of thousands of rubles (millions in today’s U.S. dollars) using bombs, a man on the inside, and even codenames—Kamo (Simon Arshaki Ter-Petrosian), Koba (future dictator Joseph Stalin), to name just a few. The event was controversial, causing a rift between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and the high death toll (up to 40 people) was seen by the public and other European parties as a bridge too far.
This one has it all: explosions, idealism versus reality, the foundations of later conflict and post-revolutionary schisms, and the potential for excellent costume design. It even has a genuine use of the “unmarked bills” cliché, as the Bolsheviks were not even able to use all of the stolen money.
Ken Loach or Michael Mann (or both) should direct. With Mann’s set piece mastery and Loach’s understanding of how politics weaves into the dramatic narrative, they’d be best as a producer-director team.
Pheidippides and Pan
The origins of what became the modern marathon are a bit muddled, but filmmakers have worked with less (looking at you, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah). Ancient chroniclers give related but different accounts of this story; in Lucian’s, Pheidippides, one of Ancient Greece’s long-distance couriers (hemerodromes) who specialized in running long distances in short amounts of time, ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of Athenian victory, immediately collapsing dead after uttering “Joy to you, we’ve won. Joy to you.” This story was enmeshed with popular myth and the writings of Herodotus, who recounts Pheidippides running from Athens to Sparta to plead for Spartan support in the battle against Persia at Marathon. Sparta is sympathetic, but cannot act in the middle of its religious festival. Pheidippides claimed to have been visited by the god Pan on his journey, who asked why the Athenians no longer worship him. Pheidippides promised they would, and in return, Pan inflicted the Persian troops with—you guessed it—panic.
Picture it—one man on a lonely quest in the scenic countryside, with visions of what might happen if he fails, and his only companion is a messenger god.
Ang Lee is the choice for director. He’s shown the ability to understand a wide breadth of cultures, from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to Brokeback Mountain. And tell me you can’t see this getting the same treatment as The Life of Pi.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056 Ant-man and The Wasp, BlacKkKlansman, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, The MEG, Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Spy Who Dumped Me
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213 Ant-man and The Wasp, Christopher Robin, The Darkest Minds, Dog Days, Eighth Grade, The Equalizer 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The MEG, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Slender Man, The Spy Who Dumped Me
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000 BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Christopher Robin, The Darkest Minds, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Eighth Grade, Leave No Trace, The Spy Who Dumped Me, Sorry to Bother You, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?