Operation 

"Wedding"

Historical drama with happy ending. 

Based on a true story

 
 

Logline

Based on real events that took place in the USSR in 1970, OPERATION FREEDOM tells the story of a newlywed Jewish couple's attempt to hijack their way out of tyranny. They pay heavy price for their desperate act, but they pave the road to freedom for millions of people.

 

Based on

The documentary film “Operation Wedding” (2016), directed by

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov (daughter of Edward Kuznetsov

and Sylva Zalmanson).

"It is not a just-the-facts documentary, as it wears its heart on its sleeve, and the emotional pull will leave the audience breathless."

Bobby LePire, Film Threat

​The book “PRISON DIARIES” by Edward Kuznetsov: written secretly in prison and smuggled to the West while Edward was still in prison.

“Solzhenitsyn overwhelmed me in a way no other had done, with the exception of the prison diaries of Eduard Kuznetsov.”

The Sunday Times (London)

 

Historical Background

By the late 1960s, life behind the Iron Curtain meant a dead-end existence for any thinking person. For Soviet Jews it was even worse. Simply having a Jewish surname could mean a lifetime of persecution. Education and employment opportunities were limited; studying Hebrew was forbidden. But there was nowhere else to go. All people applying for exit visas were designated "enemies of the state." They could lose their jobs and be charged with "parasitism." Then, after they were arrested, they could be sent to mental institutions or forced labor camps.

 

But all too often, dreams die hard. Some young idealists refused to give up. In one outrageous plan to escape, a group of young Jewish dissidents plotted to hijack a plane. They would disguise themselves as a wedding party, and purchase every ticket on a small 12-seater. With no other passengers but them, no innocents would be in harm's way. They even had their own pilot, who once flew for the Soviet Red Army. As soon as they were all on board, he would fly them the brief distance to freedom, across the Finnish border.

 

The plan seemed flawless, but they never got off the ground. Seized by the KGB just a few steps from boarding, the dissidents were subjected to a chilling show trial, while the whole world watched. But they remained undaunted. With her life lying in the balance, Sylva turned to her judges and quoted her Bible, saying, "Next year in Jerusalem!" She and most of the other defendants received lengthy sentences in the Gulag. Her husband Edward and the other ringleader received a one-word sentence: death.

 

"The Criminals Receive Their Due!" the Soviet headlines blared. But all around the free world, Jews and non-Jews alike took up the cause of these young dissidents, who were desperate to live in freedom. "Let My People Go!" became their rallying cry. And the iron gates slowly creaked open.

 

Four years later, Sylva was released in exchange for a Soviet spy. Edward's sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison. He was finally released in 1979 as part of a larger US prisoner exchange. Within days, the couple was reunited in New York before a crowd of 250,000 people. It was just in time to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.

Synopsis

1970, USSR. After serving seven years in the Gulag on a trumped-up charge, Jewish dissident Edward Kuznetsov walks free, but not quite – he’s still behind the Iron Curtain. Edward moves to Riga and falls in love with a vivacious underground activist Sylva Zalmanson, also Jewish. They share two passions: freedom and Israel. But leaving the Soviet Union is an impossible task.

 

Edward and Sylva plot a daring escape. They and their motley crew of fourteen dissidents plan to purchase all the seats on a small aircraft, take the controls and cross the Soviet border. As the day approaches, they grow certain that the KGB is on to them. What they don’t know is that the agency’s Chairman Yuri Andropov is personally overseeing the operation. Their escape is doomed.

 

Only one thing keeps them going against all odds. Failure might serve their purpose even better: causing an international scandal would alert the whole world to the plight of USSR Jews. They may suffer greatly, but they’ll pave the road to freedom for millions of people.

 

Edward, Sylva and other group members willingly walk into the KGB trap. They’re arrested, charged with high treason and subjected to a show trial. Guilty verdicts are a foregone conclusion. Sylva gets ten years of hard labor, while Edward is sentenced to death.

 

Edward’s calculations turn out to be right. Under the barrage of pressure from heads of state including Golda Meir and Richard Nixon, facing mass protests around the world, the Soviet government commutes his death sentence to a lengthy prison term and relaxes the country’s severe restrictions on Jewish emigration. Yet, for Edward, Sylva and their friends the hardest struggle lies ahead. They must survive the brutality of the Gulag.

 

Once again their only hope is to win international attention to their cause. Edward ventures to smuggle his prison diary to the West. Written in secrecy, this diary is a fierce indictment of the Soviet totalitarian system. Risking his life, Edward pulls the right strings and saves Sylva’s.

 

Freed in a spy exchange, Sylva rejoices as she steps onto Israeli soil. But Edward is missing from the dream come true. When Sylva learns that Edward has gone on a hunger strike in the Gulag, she goes on one, too, right next to the UN headquarters in New York. Now it’s her turn to save Edward and the rest of the group. She’ll set them free – or die trying.

 

* * *

 

Based on real events, OPERATION FREEDOM is the story of people behind the Leningrad hijacking plot. During the decade before their trial, only 3,000 Jews were permitted to emigrate from the USSR. In the decade after, almost 256,000 Jews were allowed to leave. In the following years, the number of Jewish emigrants from the former Soviet Union rose to 2 million.

The 2nd draft of the script is available upon request.
 

"A script that is a rich historical document, bringing us into the world of Soviet Prisoners of Zion behind the Iron Curtain. It is an intriguing, tense, and unfamiliar world, described factually, accurately, and effectively throughout the script. Its clear structure and the rhythmic development of the plot combine to create a dynamic and thrilling script, relevant to its target audience, while revealing a fascinating and important insight into Soviet Jewry and how they arrived in Israel." 

Israel Film Fund

 
 
 

Major Protagonists

Edward Kuznetsov (30)

A Soviet dissident with 7 years of prison camps behind him. A philosopher by vocation and spirit, Soviet propaganda is suffocating him. He needs to escape the totalitarian police state and gain freedom for all, but his only weapon is his pen. 


“What Edward Kuznetsov did for Soviet Jews reminds me of a modernday Moses.”  

Vladimir Bukovsky

Writer and Soviet dissident

Sylva Zalmanson (25)   

Fragile, romantic, and naïve, Sylva dreams of living in her homeland, Israel. She falls in love with Edward and joins him on his mission, hardly realizing what she's up against, or how strong she really is.

 


"Sylva Zalmanson was most memorable with a stirring and haunting effect, not heard since the publication of Anne Frank's 'Diary of a Young Girl."

Phillip Spiegel

Author,  “Triumph Over Tyranny”

KGB Major Kruglov (40)

 

 A  cog in the giant State Security apparatus, Kruglov uses the hijacking affair as a means to ascend the KGB ladder. He is now facing his hardest struggle: winning Edward over to his side.

Kruglov is based on two KGB generals, who were interviewed for the documentary film "Operation Wedding."

Ironically, both of them now take credit for the change

in policy that led to mass Jewish emigration:

KGB General Philipp Bobkov (First Deputy of Head of the KGB, 1985-1991) Bobkov oversaw the group's arrest at the airport. He had served in the KGB since 1946.

KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, now living in the US.  He was a longtime head of KGB operations in Russia and later a critic of the agency. He had served in the KGB since 1955.

Supporting characters 

Mark Dymshits (40)

As a demobilized military pilot, Mark is unable to find employment when all Jews are fired from the aviation industry. This causes him to switch allegiances. Once a soldier of circumstance, he becomes a soldier of hatred

Yosef Mendelevich (22) 

Starry-eyed Yosef practices a selftaught Judaism and yearns to do something on behalf

of his people.

Yosef Zalmanson (55)

Sylva’s father is a guardian of Jewish traditions, including the longstanding tradition of pessimism. Originally a proponent of “internal immigration,” with three of his children on trial, he is forced to come out of his shell.

 

Creators

 

ANAT Z.K.

AUTHOR OF IDEA & PRODUCER

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov was born in Israel to Sylva and Edward, leaders of Operation Wedding. She studied filmmaking at London Film School. Her most recent documentary, Operation Wedding is now distributed worldwide in TV networks and film festivals. It’s been a long-standing ambition for her to tell the story of her parents in a feature film.

Our Partners

ALENA ALOVA WRITER

Alena received her MFA in Film from Columbia University in New York. She wrote screenplays for a number of feature films, such as WEDDING BY EXCHANGE (2011), PUPPET SYNDROME (2015) and ONE BREATH (2018). Her screenplays won awards both in Russia and abroad, including the Best Screenplay Award at the Polo Ralph Lauren Festival and the Milos Forman Fund Screenplay Fellowship for CITY OF BIRDS.

In loving memory of Producer Sasha Klein

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