By Kris Kelly, Community Affairs Manager for CBS 62/CW50
In the late 90’s, five Soviet hockey players led the Detroit Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. They’re the subject of “The Russian Five,” a new documentary by Port Huron filmmaker Joshua Riehl premiering at the Freep Film Festival on April 11th.
Riehl’s film shares their dramatic story through interviews and archival footage, but the story behind the documentary was equally interesting.
1) Who are the Russian Five?
The Russian Five were the first 5-man unit of hockey players trained in the Soviet system of hockey to play together in the NHL. The line consisted of the Sergei Fedorov (the superstar), Vladimir Konstantinov (the warrior), Slava Kozlov (the grumpy kid), Igor Larionov (the professor) and Slava Fetisov (the papa bear). Together they helped change the way the Detroit Red Wings’ played, and eventually the rest of the NHL, while helping lead the team to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
2) Why did you decide to do a documentary on them?
What really drew me to doing a documentary on them, besides the fact that it’s an incredible story, is the determination in the face of adversity that these guys had. From the struggles to leave the Soviet Union, to fitting into a new country, culture and locker room in the face of anti-Russian sentiment, to overcoming the tragedy that occurred just 6 days after winning the Stanley Cup, these men display the kind of heroism and strength of character that you’d expect to find in a Marvel summer blockbuster. It’s been a joy and true privilege to bring their story to the big screen!
Riehl first started working on the documentary at the end of 2012 after finishing classes at the University of Texas in Austin. After multiple near-misses on securing funding, he returned to Detroit where he met Jenny Feterovich. She became one of the producers of the project and introduced him to Executive Producer Dan Milstein who agreed to fund it.
3) Who did you interview for the film?
When I was planning this film I created a dream-wish list of interviews that I hoped to get, and I’m happy to report that we were able to get probably 3/4ths of them to sit down on camera.
Besides Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov and Slava Kozlov, I had the opportunity to interview some true Red Wings legends, such as Steve Yzerman, Scotty Bowman, Nick Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan. Through some of my Executive Producer, Dan Milstein’s, connections I was even able to get twenty minutes with Wayne Gretzky!
That said, what was most exciting for me was the interviews with guys that might not have the star power name recognition but turned out to be fantastic on camera. Darren McCarty and Jimmy Devellano add so much heart and humor to the film, and a guy like Chris Osgood, who was the last interview we did, provides some wonderful and emotional insight. My only regret was that due to scheduling conflicts and logistics, we weren’t able to get Doug Brown on camera.
4) Did you learn anything surprising from the interviews or research?
I had researched the story of the Russian Five pretty exhaustively before we started filming interviews so there were very few surprises, as far as content goes. The biggest surprise, and a very pleasant one, was just how articulate and philosophical Darren McCarty is. I figured he’d be entertaining but I didn’t count on just how profound Darren was in the two hours I got with him and just how much we’d be able to rely on his interview in the edit to add more than just a colorful comment. For a guy that was known more for his tough guy role and beating Claude Lemieux into submission, D-Mac was refreshingly thoughtful and expressive about his experience playing with the Russian Five and it was a wonderful surprise to find out his wit is just as sharp as his right hook.
5) It must be pretty exciting to have the film premiere at the Freep Film Festival. How did that come about? When will it be shown?
We couldn’t ask for a better place to premiere than the Freep Film Festival in Detroit! Last year, Kathy Kieliszewski and Steve Byrne invited me to screen a scene as part of a Works in Progress Panel and the discussions for premiering the film came out of that. They’ve been really big supporters through the last tumultuous year of post-production, and so when the official offer came from them, I felt like it was a perfect fit. The support from Kathy and Steve from the Festival has been incredible and it just goes to show you that one of the best things about this industry is the personal connections you make along the way. Their support has truly meant a lot to us on our team and we couldn’t be more excited to open the Freep Festival!
The world premiere will be April 11th at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit and it’s going to be wonderful to share this film for the first time with an audience that will hopefully relive the shared experience of being Red Wings’ fans in the 90s. I’m looking forward to celebrating the Russian Five’s legacy through this film with everyone and Detroit’s the one place that will undoubtedly “get it.”
Tickets to the world premiere are no longer available, but there are still tickets left for a special showing of the film at 4:00 PM on Friday, April 13 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit. The cost is $10 in advance and $12 at the door. DIA members receive a $2 discount. https://www.dia.org/events/freep-film-festival-russian-five
6) What’s next for this documentary? What’s next for you?
We’re currently putting together plans for distribution and further festival appearances for the Russian Five, and it’s my hope that by this time next year it’ll be widely available, though in what format I can’t be sure of just yet.
Personally, I’ve got about a dozen ideas for follow-up films that have accumulated in the six years since beginning this film that I’m really looking forward to giving some attention to but for now, I’m just looking forward to being able to relax and enjoy some Pure Michigan summer nights on Lake Huron without a mountain of Russian Five work hanging over my head.
For more information, you can keep up with “The Russian Five” on twitter @RussianFiveFilm, Instagram @therussianfive, or on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/theRussianFive/?ref=br_rs.