With Plano-based indie distributor Well Go USA looking to grow its portfolio of international war movies, Sniper: The White Raven seemed like a natural fit.
Current events, however, have given fresh relevance and urgency to this obscure Ukrainian drama, which is set during the buildup to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
That significance isn’t lost on executives at Well Go, which will release the film in select markets throughout North America, including in Fort Worth, this weekend. It also will be available via online streaming platforms.
“It feels like the least we can do to support this film community and ensure that Ukrainian stories are heard at a time when they really can’t tell them on their own again yet,” said Well Go president and CEO Doris Pfardrescher. “What’s happening in Ukraine right now is extremely sad, and we are proud to highlight this story of courage and patriotism, along with everyone involved in making it.
Based on a true story, the gritty and evocative film follows a physics teacher (Pavlo Aldoshyn) in the Donbas region who suffers a family tragedy at the hands of invading Russian troops. The ex-pacifist joins the army as an unconventional sniper determined to gain revenge and defend the future of his country.
It was created with support from the Ukrainian State Film Agency, was co-written by Mykola Voronin — the real-life sniper whose story is portrayed — and features about 100 members of the Ukrainian armed forces and national guard. Even aside from those career military personnel, several of the main cast members are currently fighting on the front lines.
“Factual and historical elements can always increase a movie’s appeal, but in this case, it also provided us with a sense of ease about releasing the film right now, knowing that we were telling an important story about someone who is also fighting to defend his country in real time,” Pfardrescher said. “For us, that was drastically different than aiming to entertain audiences with a made-up story that purposely leverages the timing of an ongoing human tragedy.”
Pfardrescher sees the White Raven acquisition as another step in diversifying a niche portfolio that has helped the Texas company thrive in a crowded indie distribution landscape with competitors on both coasts.
“The rise of the digital age has played a huge role in making our success possible at a distance from industry hot spots. There are so many things we can now do without being in close proximity that were just not possible 10 or 15 years ago,” she said. “We also take great satisfaction in supporting the kind of stories that are in short supply, or that may not otherwise be told.”
The film’s release in its home country has been delayed indefinitely by the ongoing military conflict. Well Go, best known for its expansive library of new and repertory Asian action titles, will instead introduce the film in the United States market. Next comes territories in Asia and Europe, which Pfardrescher hopes will help it find the audience it deserves.
“Any time there’s a major humanitarian crisis, it can evoke this pervasive sense of helplessness,” she said, “because in reality, how much can you do to make any sort of concrete and measurable difference halfway around the world? But that’s part of the beauty and power of cinema, particularly via indie filmmakers, and it’s firmly ingrained in the legacy of cinema.”