A blockbuster Russian drama about the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, has hit the big screen. The $7 million film is more factual than fictional, based on recently released secret archive material on the legendary Soviet cosmonaut.
The film first premiered in Moscow on April 12 and was
screened at the UN’s Vienna International Center, and is now
hitting Russian wide screens.
According to the film’s crew, ‘Gagarin: The First in Space’ tells the story of the race to be the first to put a human in space – the Cold War confrontation between the two superpowers, the USSR and US. Film producer and co-writer Oleg Kapanets, who has worked in Hollywood since 1992, said that the complicated project took six years of hard work.
“A lot of books have been written about Yuri Gagarin, so we took our time rereading numerous documentary accounts and autobiographical materials about him,” he said at a Moscow press conference for the film. “We wanted to pick up some extraordinary moments of his life and piece them together. The challenge was to translate the material into the language of film to appeal to audiences. In the long run we chose the main theme of the film to be the flight itself and the man behind it.”
Kapanets also explained how troves of material from secret
Russian archives were revealed for the 50th anniversary of the
first manned spaceflight: “This is how we’ve discovered
several sketches of the rockets and of the capsule that we later
recreated in our film in accordance with the released
In 1960 fighter pilot Gagarin was shortlisted for the Vostok 1 program built on the success of Sputnik 1. Yuri's closest rival for selection was German Titov. The promising cosmonauts did their best to impress their space program director Sergey Korolev.
The film producer said they had also worked with a number of space experts and turned for advice to the legendary cosmonauts from the first cosmonaut team, such as Aleksey Leonov and Boris Volynovm during the shooting. “We tested facts from books and witness accounts on them,” Kapanets explained.
Vadim Michman – the actor playing the second man in space, Titov – said he could not imagine what the Russian cosmonauts felt when they first went into space: “What they did to fly into space, and how they did it... Not everyone can even come to think of it.”
After his historic flight, Gagarin became a worldwide celebrity and was never far from the spotlight. He visited several countries and was pictured with film celebrities and stars like Gina Lollobrigida, or political leaders like Fidel Castro and Che Gevara, but never forgot about his childhood friends and family. Those who knew him personally said that even after he had “skyrocketed” into fame, stardom meant nothing to the first man to orbit the earth.
Gagarin tragically died in a military training flight on March 27, 1968, at 34 years of age. “A separate movie about Gagarin’s death could be made. There’s yet a lot to discover,” Kapanets said.
Kapanets added that the release of ‘Gagarin: The First in Space’ is well-timed to help close a widening generation gap: “If children fail to know who Gagarin is, we’ll lose ourselves as a nation.”
On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted
off in a Vostok rocket, becoming the first human in space and
orbiting Earth for 108 minutes. Over 50 years after the legendary
voyage, Gagarin’s courage continues to serve as a role model and
source of inspiration for space explorers across the world. In
2011, the UN deemed April 12 the International Day of Human Space
For decades, Russia’s space program has been primarily oriented towards manned space flights, which comprise 58 percent of the space budget. Russia must “keep the leader’s experience of the manned flights and catch up in other space exploration programs,” President Vladimir Putin said in April of this year.
By 2020, the Russian government plans to allocate up to $52 billion for the national space industry. And by 2030, the turnover of the space industry globally could grow fivefold, reaching $1.5 trillion from its current $300-400 billion.