Forgive Me Sergei
Award Winning Documentary

Finding a Director
By Caroline Walker

I spent the fall of 1999 in Vladivostok, Russia hoping to find someone who could help me do some research in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the city where Sergei Kourdakov claimed to have led 150 raids against Christians. I eventually made my way there for a week, established some contacts and returned to the States. At that time, Damian Wojciechowski, SJ, was studying in Moscow to get his masters in documentary film. Of course I didn’t know anything about him at this time. That fall semester, he discussed with his film professor the idea of basing his diploma film on Sergei Kourdakov’s autobiography. His professor advised against it due to the challenge of research: how would he research the part of the story in Canada and the States? Of course he didn’t know that I had already done much of that between 1995 and 1999.

In 2000, Damian became the director of a Catholic TV and film studio in Novosibirsk, Siberia, and he received an interesting email at work. A Baptist youth minister in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (2000 miles away) was searching for some Christian video materials, and Damian asked him about Sergei Kourdakov’s story. It turned out that the Baptist youth minister had met me in 1999 and was able to give Damian some contact information. With two research assistants in Vladivostok already helping me, I was determined to start production in Russia in April 2000. However, I still had no director or funding. I then decided via email to work with Damian. We met for the first time in Russia that April, merely a few days after raising seed money to get us through the first phase of production.

Irony of a 70th Year Anniversary Celebration

One of the villains in Sergei Kourdakov's autobiography is "Big Irene," the “huge, imposing and fearsome” director of the Bareshevo Orphange where Sergei grew up in Siberia, where he claimed children died of starvation. It just so happened that this orphanage had a 70th Year Anniversary celebration during the time period of our production schedule . . . Adult orphans who had scattered to the four winds all over the former Soviet Union all gathered in the tiny village of Bareshevo, Siberia to see one another and honor the woman they still call mother - Irene. Sergei Kourdakov's classmates were shocked to learn more about Sergei’s book, especially the chapters about his orphanage and childhood friends. This day was one of the investigation's many "gifts" because many classmates and witnesses of Kourdakov's childhood were present. Surprised by the irony of events as he viewed them through the camera lens, Damian said, "God has a big sense of humor."