Travels with my father the 'spy'

Stuart Urban’s film about his dad’s wartime adventures led to some welcome family bonding, he tells Alex Kasriel

Most film directors rely on the whim of distribution companies to get their movies shown. Not Stuart Urban, who has managed to get his documentary feature, Tovarisch, I am Not Dead, screened in London at the National Film Theatre and the Swiss Cottage Odeon after sending copies of the work to the cinemas himself. “I had had the usual rounds of rejections or being ignored,” says the 49-year-old Urban, who is best known as one of the directors of the 1996 BBC TV drama series Our Friends in the North. “Distributors can be narrow-minded.”

Urban’s award-winning film is about his charismatic father Garri’s extraordinary adventures through Nazi Europe and Soviet Russia. It documents how, in 1992, father and son travelled to the former Soviet Union to retrace Garri’s steps after escaping Nazi-occupied Poland and finding himself working in the Siberian labour camps. Garri attempts to get hold of his KGB files which still list him as an “international spy”. It was a risky business, with the pair getting arrested on one occasion.

But Urban — who lives in South-West London with his wife Dana and two teenage children — was keen to document the experience. “I would not say that it helped the relationship with my father, because there were ups and downs. But I think, without saying it openly, he was glad his son was with him in this time.”

Urban chose not to release the film until after his father died in 2004. “He felt it was all too much,” he says. “He didn’t want it be shown. However, nearer the time that he died he revised his views. He would be happy to see it winning awards and being shown in Britain. He would be schepping nachas, as he would say.”

Tovarisch, I am Not Dead is at the Odeon Swiss Cottage until May 9. Visit www.tovarisch.net for future screenings

    Last updated: 2:16pm, August 18 2009