Filmmaker documents parents’ attempt to escape USSR

Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov introduces Operation Wedding on May 7, touching on her inspiration and road to its production. ANIA BESSONOV PHOTO

There are few children who wake up to the constant knocking of journalists on their doorstep, who want to speak to their parents. There are even fewer children who grow up wanting to document their parents’ history, without even knowing all the details. But Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov was one of the few.

Zalmanson-Kuznetsov had dreamt of making a documentary about her parents’ attempted escape from the Soviet Union, which eventually brought them to Israel, from the unique perspective of being their daughter. But in 2009, a car accident left her in critical condition and she almost lost the chance to follow through on her dream.

Zalmanson-Kuznetsov is an Israeli filmmaker who began her career with commercials and music videos. Throughout her childhood, she was constantly in the spotlight, as the daughter of two globally recognized individuals: Sylva Zalmanson and Edward Kuznetsov.

“When people heard my last name, they would recognize that I was the daughter of my parents,” she said. “In school, teachers would ask me to tell my parents’ story. I grew up with the notion that my parents were superheroes.”


Her parents were two of 11 people who were arrested by the KGB for attempting to hijack a plane, in an effort to escape the Soviet Union. Most of the group was sent to the gulags for at least 10 years. Kuznetsov and one other person, Mark Dymshits, were sentenced to death.

In the USSR, the group was referred to as terrorists, but their fame was rooted in something much stronger: throughout their trials, they demonstrated a resiliency that the Soviet officials were not used to. This was one of the first times that a Soviet trial was being reported on throughout the rest of the world. The resulting international pressure eventually led to the group being set free.

Zalmanson-Kuznetsov felt compelled to make a documentary about her parents’ experiences over that period of time. From her point of view, previous accounts of this story were filled with subjectivity, and the official Soviet version of events was akin to a work of historical fiction. For her, this was both a personal project and a way to present a different side of the story.

“If I don’t make this film, then what is there to remember?” she asked.

For the last eight years, Zalmanson-Kuznetsov has put her entire life on hold, in order to create this documentary. After a failed attempt in 2009, she tried again in 2012 – this time, successfully. The reactions from viewers that Operation Wedding has received is exactly what Zalmanson-Kuznetsov was hoping for.

“It’s amazing how peoples’ reactions are so strong. I love being in the cinema when people wipe their noses, or even laugh,” she said.

She began her North American tour in Toronto at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Both screenings of Operation Wedding, on May 5 and 7, sold out. Zalmanson-Kuznetsov will continue her tour in the United States.

Operation Wedding is just the beginning of Zalmanson-Kuznetsov’s cinematic endeavours. She hopes to continue shining light on her family history and is set on making a fictional film about this historical episode as her next project. For more information visit: