By Olga Azar

Based on a true story, Firebird is a meticulously researched and produced film about two young men on a military base in Soviet-occupied Estonia in the late 1970s.

Sergey (Tom Prior) is a private just weeks away from discharge; Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) is an officer and pilot, newly assigned to the base. Their attraction is almost immediate, unfolding with a tender intimacy which is beautifully, painfully naïve to the realities of their society – both military and civilian.

Firebird was released in Australia on May 19, and is currently playing in a limited number of screens in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.  The film was screened recently in Australia as part of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), and has also had screenings at a bunch of film festivals. 

Tickets Cancelled In Moscow

Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorodnii in ‘Firebird’

Firebird feels like a film for the ages, but also of the times. Not surprisingly, Russia was not too happy about the film. Tom Prior, one of the leads, told The Guardian that though the film was not “technically banned”, the tickets for its only screening in the country were cancelled and the film was “played to an empty auditorium”. 

“There was a complaint about it being ‘homosexual propaganda’. We had 93 press articles written about it, all but one of which were negative. One headline translated as, ‘An Estonian, a Brit and a Ukrainian shame Moscow.’ (Zagorodnii is Ukrainian, Prior is British and the film’s director Peeter Rebane is from Estonia). Another called the film ‘a punch in the face of the Russian soldier’,” Prior told The Guardian.

In the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many country’s have declined to screen the film over its content.

A Timeless Love  Story

In one sense Firebird is a timeless love story, even including references the Tchaikovsky ballet of the same name and Shakespeare, without pretension. It’s part of how Sergey and Roman fall in love, as Roman, slightly older, guides and encourages his lover. They both have an interest in photography, which spurs their first private encounter.

It is also a film of the times. Spanning from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, this is unavoidably a tale of military and political aggression and how those ethos – and hierarchy – specifically influence armed forces. This is true of all nations, of course, but there seems to be a new Cold War brewing, and with it so many foreseeable consequences.

Co-writers Peeter Rabine (Director) and Prior (Sergey) had the chance to meet with the memoir’s author, Sergey Fetisov, before his death in 2017. They bring a richly deep portrait of the time and the love. The credits include two poetry consultants. That’s probably all you really need to know. Poetry Consultants.

Firebird is currently playing in a limited number of screens in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. 

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