After ridding the universe of the Dark Side of the Force, Rick McCallum is aiming his cinematic light sabers at the Czech Communists.
The 60-year-old “Star Wars” producer moved to Prague with his Czech wife months before his former employer, George Lucas, sold his company to Walt Disney Co. for $4.05 billion. McCallum has now started work with local filmmakers on the real-life escape tale of five anti-Communists who sparked a major manhunt across East Germany in 1953.
He hopes the story of Cold War brutality will blunt the rise of the Czech Communists, who form part of 10 of 13 regional councils and could join the national government for the first time since 1989 in 2014 elections.
“Nothing is more transformative than a film,” McCallum said in an interview at his new production company in the historic quarter below Prague Castle. “It can change people’s viewpoints, and if it’s a good film, it just might change what is politically going on in this country before elections.”
After years in isolation, the Communists are again gaining ground, opinion polls show, even with views that echo back to an authoritarian past. Communist leader Vojtech Filip praised North Korea’s Kim Jong-il after his 2011 death. Also that year, lawmaker Marta Semelova lauded Cold War-era border guards who shot at fleeing Czechs and urged more “Bolshevization.”
The 80 million-koruna ($4 million) film, which should appear in Czech cinemas before the elections, is in the pre-production stages. It plans to tell the true story of the Masin brothers, who as teenagers established an armed resistance cell after the Communists took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948.
Ctirad and Josef Masin were the sons of General Josef Masin, executed by the Gestapo for his role in the Czech resistance. The brothers decided to fight Communism in the belief that the Americans would soon come and free them from totalitarianism.
In October 1953, the brothers and three other members of the cell resolved to flee the country and reach the American zone in partitioned Berlin to join the U.S. army, learn military insurgency tactics and return to carry on the fight.
After a bungled car-hijacking attempt, they were identified and pursued by tens of thousands of German officers and Soviet troops for almost a month. They killed at least three East German policemen in trying to evade capture.
Escape to U.S.
Three of the group, the Masins and Milan Paumer, reached West Berlin, joined the U.S. Army and settled in the States, while the other two escapees were sent back and executed, along with members of the cell who had stayed home. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Ctirad and Josef refused to return to Czechoslovakia because the Communist Party had not been banned.
McCallum was born in Germany, the son of a U.S. military pilot father and Pat York, a photographer who later married actor Michael York. The producer said he wants to remind Czechs of the “unimaginable suffering” eastern Europe underwent under communism.
He first heard tales about the Masin brothers in 2000, when he was in the Czech Republic to scout for locations for the first Star Wars prequel. Their harrowing 32-day escape to West Berlin reminded him of Indiana Jones.
After meeting with Czech director Tomas Masin, a distant relative, McCallum bought the film rights for the Czech prize-winning novel “So Far So Good -- the Masins -- the Greatest Story of the Cold War.”
The book is based on archived documents and interviews with the brothers and their younger sister. Published in 2004, its author was the Czech screenwriter and emigrant Jan Novak, who collaborated with director Milos Forman on the script for “Valmont.”
The movie is planned as the first segment of a trilogy called “How could this happen?” Two further films will address the Nazi massacre of 34,000 Jews in Ukraine’s Babi Yar and boy soldiers in Sierra Leone.
The trilogy will be produced by Film United, a production company McCallum founded with Czech filmmakers including Katerina Silna, who worked on “Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig’s first Bond film.
For Czechs, the Masins’ legacy is not without controversy because of their use of violence and murder to achieve their goals. The brothers killed two Czech police officers trying to capture weapons and ammunition and a cashier during a robbery.
Even after the collapse of the Communist regime, which demonized them in mass-distributed propaganda, most Czechs see the Masins as murderers and some even demand that the brothers be tried for what they did: one of the Czech officers died while handcuffed and chloroformed.
Still, in 2011, the then Czech Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra awarded the brothers a military award called the “Zlata Lipa.”
McCallum said the film will try to put the sometimes-brutal actions of the Masin brothers into context.
“If we can get people to equally love and hate the movie then we’re successful,” he said. “If it’s a good film, it may change the political views of people.”
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