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Ukraine, Azerbaijan pick Oscar entries

Illienko's 'Firecrosser,' Najaf's 'Buta' selected

MOSCOW — Feel-good movies from Ukraine and Azerbaijan are among the latest entries in the race for the foreign language film Oscar.

Mykhailo Illienko’s “Firecrosser” is the true story of a Soviet wartime hero whose life is transformed when he is sent to one of Stalin’s Gulags for the “crime” of falling into German hands as a prisoner of war.

The ace pilot loses his wife to a deceitful best friend who tells her he’s dead. Released from the Gulag he manages to make his way to Canada, where in a story arc that must rank among the more unusual in Soviet times, he ends up becoming the chief of a Red Indian tribe.

The story, uncovered when a Soviet delegation visited native settlements in Montreal in 1967, was never more than an obscure footnote until Illienko seized on the material to make a film with a genuine Ukrainian hero.

“Firecrosser,” which had a budget of $2 million, has taken $212,500 on home turf, and has sold to Russia for DVD and theatrical.

Azerbaijan’s choice, “Buta,” directed by Ilgar Najaf, is the tale of an orphan befriended by an elderly man who loved, but lost, the boy’s grandmother long ago.

Shot in black and white and strong on the symbolism of love and strife, the film, which won last year’s fifth Asia Pacific Screen Awards for best children’s feature, is repped for worldwide sales by Baku-based Narimanfilm.

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