“So I said, ‘Yeah, I was in a foreign movie,’ and apparently everybody thought it was fake,” the 11-year-old boy from Ann Arbor recalls. “But eventually they learned it was actually true.”
A newcomer to acting, Anton wasn’t an extra standing in the background. He landed a leading role in “The Guide,” Ukraine’s choice for consideration for a best foreign film Oscar nomination this year.
The movie will be shown at free screenings Tuesday at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor and Wednesday at Wayne State University’s Manoogian Hall in Detroit. Anton and the director, Oles Sanin, will be attending both events.
Set in the 1930s, “The Guide” concerns a young boy who moves to Ukraine with his unemployed American father who’s seeking work. When his father is killed by Stalin’s forces, the boy, Peter, goes on the run with a blind folk musician against a backdrop of Soviet oppression and famine caused by Stalin’s orders.
The film has connected deeply with Ukrainians who are in the midst of country’s devastating conflict against pro-Russian separatists. The war has resulted in thousands of deaths.
The response in Ukraine has been so great that “The Guide” is the nation’s Oscar entry, a decision that surprised film critics. The honor was expected to go to another drama, “The Tribe,” which won the grand prize at the Cannes Critics Week, a sidebar event to the famous festival.
Anton’s chance to star in a foreign film came about quite unexpectedly. But his determination to succeed at acting didn’t surprise his parents, Arthur Greene, a University of Michigan music professor with Ukrainian heritage, and Solomia Soroka, a Goshen College music professor and native of Ukraine.
Soroka found out about the casting call through an e-mail from a friend in Toronto. Not really expecting anything to come of it, the family sent a video made with an iPad of Anton reading poems and playing the piano.
What they didn’t know was that Sanin was having a hard time finding the right boy to play Peter, a role that 2,000 boys had sought through the casting process. When the initial choice for Peter wound up not fitting Sanin’s vision, the director went back to the audition tapes and was impressed by Anton’s concentration as he played the piano.
“Once he saw that, he said, ‘I need those eyes,’ ” says Soroka.
When Anton got the part, he needed to travel to the Ukraine in a matter of days. Soroka woke her mother there with a late-night phone call and asked if she could take care of Anton during the four-month shoot.
It was an adventure that Anton took seriously. The toughest part, he says, was working outside in the cold. “Most of the time when we were filming it was freezing and I had to run through the snow.”
Filming took place two years ago, before the current conflict in Ukraine erupted. It was only last month that Anton and his family went to to Kiev for the official premiere, where he met the prime minister and was treated like a celebrity.
“Every block in Kiev has Anton’s picture on a big poster,” says his father. “It’s something we could never have dreamed would have happened.”
Anton says he wants to keep pursuing his new craft. “Before any of this happened, I wanted to be an astronomer. I knew so much about stars and galaxies and everything in space. But after I finished acting, I decided I really want to be an actor. I don’t know why it pulled me in so much, I just know I really liked acting.”
While the experience has been a fun ride so far, “The Guide” has a deeper meaning for Anton’s family, as it does for viewers in Ukraine.
Some of his relatives spent years in Soviet prisons for supporting a free Ukraine, according to Soroka, who says her grandfather died in prison four months after she was born. “I was told by my parents that he would put my photograph in the prison and he would tell his friends that when he got out, he (was going to) take me to my first day of school,” she says.
For Anton’s parents, “The Guide” has a message that speaks to family members who came before their son and those still living in Ukraine.
“It’s about fighting for freedom. It’s about the longing in society for free people. We feel that this film is very timely right now,” says Soroka.
Contact Julie Hinds: 313-222-6427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.