I have always been a lover of all things Russian. For me, there is something about its music, literature, history, and even the superstitions that I find fascinating. When I listen to Russian composers like Prokofiev or Rimsky-Korsakov, I feel powerful emotions.  And I know there is a depth – a spirituality – behind what I am listening to. 

Fast-forward many years and many Russian classes later. The first draft of KARAGANDA came while living in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2004 as I studied  at Herzen University and worked at LenFilm Studios. Just as I was about to start my second semester, my sister Nicole disappeared in the tsunami in Thailand. This was an extremely difficult emotional moment for me. In that weird way our sub-conscious speaks with us, I heard a voice asking me what it would be worth to have my sister back. I wondered how many strangers’ lives I would trade to have one life back that meant something to me personally. I was willing to do anything at that moment, and my desire was not governed by any belief in right and wrong.
As I continued to write the script – I realized what values I wanted to juxtapose within the main character. I suddenly saw the hero, Vladimir, as someone willing to do anything to save the one he loved, no matter how evil. Love vs. goodness became a central theme of KARAGANDA. As it turned out, and there was no better world to find these values in conflict with each other than in the life of a Russian gangster.
In 2013, KARAGANDA (26 min., B&W) was realized as an AFI thesis film, overcoming budget, production, and scheduling issues to make a film with Hollywood-level action and VFX. The awards and festival success made a feature version inevitable.