Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

‘Firebird’ based on a true story set against the Cold War

Tom Prior stars as Sergey and Oleg Zagorodnii as Roman in Peeter Rebane’s “Firebird.” (Herrki-Erich Merila/Roadside Attractions/The Factory)

Tom Prior always looks for roles that will bring a challenge.

When it came to the role of Sergey in the film, “Firebird,” he was all in.

“First, I was so fascinated by the Soviet Union and the Cold War,” he says. “Then I’ve grown up watching Jason Bourne and James Bond. When I finished acting school, I began to start writing.”

Prior then teamed up with director Peeter Rebane for the film.

“Firebird” is based on a true story during the Cold War and is a passionate love story set against the backdrop of an air force base in occupied Estonia during late 1970s Communist rule. Sergey, played by Prior, a soulful, young soldier who dreams of becoming an actor in Moscow, is counting the days until his military service ends.

His life is turned upside down when he locks eyes with Roman, played by Oleg Zagorodnii, a sexy, enigmatic ace fighter pilot newly assigned to his base. Driven by their undeniable attraction, Sergey and Roman navigate the precarious line between love and friendship at a time when Soviet men in uniform caught having a sexual affair was met with the severest punishment.

As their friendship grows into love, the men risk their freedom and their lives to be together in the face of an all-seeing Communist regime.

The film was released nationwide on Friday, April 29. It will screen at Century Rio 24 in Albuquerque.

Prior not only acts in the film, but he is also the writer.

He wanted to take this true story and create inspiration by showing examples of resilience.

“We’ve been really blessed with a wonderful team and it was an honor to meet Sergey in person,” Prior says. “That really helped inform where I was coming from as a writer. I wanted to play him as this character that has an internal struggle and shame. Then I wanted to explore the courage of hope and self-discovery. My instinct was right, as the film is warm and open.”

Tom Prior stars as Sergey in the feature film, “Firebird.” (Roadside Attractions/The Factory)

Of course, when making a film, there are challenges and prior worked hard to overcome them.

“One of the big challenges is that Oleg didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Estonian,” he says. “We couldn’t have a very deep conversation because of the language barrier. Getting intimate scenes was tricky because we had to be on the same page. The barrier did help with understanding ourselves in the film. We both had to feel authentically.”

Prior hopes that “Firebird” will ignite conversation of tolerance.

“We’re in a much more tolerant society today, but there has to be more work done,” Prior says. “I’d really love it if people came out to courageously love authentically. Hopefully the film fosters a greater respect with those that do that. It’s a film about love and friendship.”

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