Our Man in Montreal

Dmitriy LanglebenAlexander Borodyansky wrote the screenplays for films including "Afonya" and "Zero City."
Last November, Canadian border guards arrested a man calling himself Paul William Hampel at a Montreal airport. They found he was carrying a fake Canadian birth certificate, thousands of dollars in cash and a stack of index cards with notes on Canadian history. The country's authorities identified Hampel as a Russian citizen and claimed he had been spying in Canada for a decade, but he was then deported in a hush-hush finale.

The strange story inspired Russian screenwriter Alexander Borodyansky to write the script for a film that he has provisionally titled "Canadian Spy of the Kremlin." He hopes that the film -- a fictionalized account of the spy drama -- will be the first ever co-production between the two countries, and aims to receive funding from Telefilm Canada and Russia's Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency.

Borodyansky, a long-term collaborator with director Karen Shakhnazarov, previously scripted films including "Afonya," "Winter Evening in Gagry" and "Tycoon: A New Russian." In a recent interview, he said the Hampel case appealed to him because it was the story of a person who "has been living a strange life under a strange name."

"Was Hampel a spy?" he asked. "Maybe he was just a swindler. At the time when the Soviet Union collapsed, many people left the country telling the most unbelievable stories. Possibly the Canadian secret service has a better idea of the real story. My story is fictional."

Borodyansky visited Montreal shortly after the story broke and became intrigued by the case when a mysterious woman approached him in a bar and mentioned Hampel, whom she named as a Russian spy. "She looked like a young Faye Dunaway," the writer recalled. "She said that she knew Hampel well and told me a funny story about their first meeting. She also told me that she could tell me many more interesting things if I would meet her again."

They exchanged numbers, but nothing came of it. "She never answered her phone, and she never called," Borodyansky said. But he was sufficiently inspired to read everything that he could find on Hampel on the Internet.

When he wrote the script, he drew on official reports rather than any personal contact with Hampel or his acquaintances, he said. "I have not talked to anyone else in Canada who claims to know Hampel. I have not attempted to contact Hampel in person. Since I have nothing to do with the [Russian] secret service myself, any attempt to get in touch with that person would be a joke."

In order to make the film, which will be in English, Russian and French, Borodyansky has teamed up with a friend from student days, Russian-Canadian film producer Valeri Kogan, who previously developed "The Quickie" with Sergei Bodrov.

"The story impressed me as a unique one for a Russian-Canadian movie co-production, which is what I have been looking for," Kogan said in a recent interview. He said he pounced on the Hampel story because, as he put it, "the history of Russian-Canadian relationships is not rich for mutually noticeable events."

At the Canadian end, Kogan is promoting the project to Telefilm Canada, which offers state support to Canadian filmmakers. In Russia, Kogan hopes to have the film approved for state funding by the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency once he has signed on a director.

He points out, however, that if the idea is rejected, he also has "some offers from independent financial sources."

Throughout his career, Borodyansky has consistently developed the theme of the hero -- or anti-hero -- out of his element, often in films directed by Shakhnazarov. In the 1985 "Winter Evening in Gagry," he depicted the tragedy of an embittered dance teacher who had once been a tap-dancing star; the 1988 slapstick "Deja Vu" followed the adventures of an American gangster in Soviet Ukraine; while the 2004 period drama "The Rider Named Death" told the story of a nihilist revolutionary. In 2002, Borodyansky co-wrote the Pavel Lungin film "Tycoon: a New Russian," a satirical drama loosely based on the story of Boris Berezovsky.

Borodyansky dismissed the idea that his latest screenplay could be rejected by the Russian film funding body due to its politically sensitive subject matter. "I do not see any politically awkward situation in the movie because the story is mostly fictional," he said. "The expert committee at the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency evaluates a project by taking into account its creative value. I am convinced that these people do not care about political issues."