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Studios Fight To Tell Story of Submarine

Published: February 2, 2001 (Issue # 641)



  • Nikolai Zateyev, captain of K-19
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

For 30 years, the crew of the K-19 Soviet nuclear submarine were forced to keep silent on the tragic accident that crippled their vessel and led to the deaths of eight of them.

Now, Hollywood wants finally to tell their tale. But two competing studios are fighting over who has the rights to reveal what happened in the North Atlantic on July 4, 1961.

In the middle of last month, a group of former K-19 crew members composed a statement objecting fiercely to a script proposed by Kathryn Bigelow, ex-wife of director James Cameron and the producer of blockbusters such as "Point Break" and "The Weight of Water."

Bigelow announced plans for her film, entitled "K-19: The Widowmaker," in September last year. The film's cast includes Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.

However, Inna Gotman, a Russian-born American producer and president of Drawbridge Film company, is claiming she had been preparing to make a similar movie since 1994, when she first met the captain of the K-19, Nikolai Zateyev, and allegedly signed a deal with him for the exclusive rights to his personal story.

Lev Slavin, Gotman's co-producer in St. Petersburg, said in an interview on Thursday that Gotman first met representatives from Bigelow's Intermedia films International at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. Gotman, he said, was looking for financial backing from the wealthier Intermedia company, and hoped they might collaborate on the K-19 project.

However, such a deal was never struck. Instead, not long after the Kursk submarine disaster in August, Gotman heard about Bigelow's plans to pursue her own project, which she claimed to have thought of long before Gotman's approach.

Last December, Bigelow came to St. Petersburg with Ford and Neeson on a low-profile trip to meet the sub's crew and discuss details of the accident ahead of filming, which is due to start on Feb. 19, with film sites to include locations in Russia, Iceland, Canada and Norway. The visit was, by all accounts, a friendly one, crew and cast drinking together and toasting each other and the prospective film.

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