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K-19 Film Premieres at Mariinsky Theater

Published: October 8, 2002 (Issue # 810)


The film "K-19: The Widowmaker," about a Soviet nuclear submarine that suffered a deadly reactor failure in the North Atlantic in 1961, drew mixed reviews on the weekend from some of its most knowledgeable critics - the crew of the boat itself.

Fifty-two veterans and widows of the crew of the submarine were flown in from across Russia and Ukraine to attend the Russian premiere of the film at a gala event at the Mariinsky Theater on Sunday. After the screening, they praised the film for the heroism portrayed by the actors, but took issue with what they described as a large number of inaccuracies.

"I'm very thankful to the American filmmakers who finally reflected the heroism of the K-19 sailors, who had to keep silent about the accident for decades," said Vladimir Pogorelov, who served as the chief of the electrical engineering group on the sub.

Yuri Mukhin, another K-19 veteran, agreed, calling the movie "impressive." He said that the film affected him to such a degree that he had to take a heart pill during the screening.

The K-19 (later given the nickname "Hiroshima" by Russian sailors) was the first Soviet sub to carry ballistic missiles and was on its first training voyage in neutral waters in the North Atlantic in July 1961, when the coolant system for its nuclear reactor began to leak, causing a rise in reactor-core temperature, and threatening a meltdown and the possible detonation of its missiles.

The danger posed by the accident was extreme. An explosion so close to NATO bases could have provoked a NATO response, ultimately leading to a nuclear confrontation during the Cold War.

But the severe crisis was averted by the actions of the submarine's captain, Nikolai Zateyev, and the crew of 139, who remained aboard the vessel to repair the coolant system, ultimately exposing themselves to severe doses of radiation. Eight of the submariners died within two weeks of the episode, and 12 more died over the next two years. A large number of the remainder suffered longer-term sickness and disability.

Big-name producer Kathryn Bigalow ("Point Break," "The Weight of Water") of Intermedia Films took the ship's story as the material for her next blockbuster film, which was budgeted at $90 million.

The film stars Harrison Ford as Zateyev.

Bigalow, who was on hand for the premiere, along with co-star Liam Neeson, explained the draw of the story for herself and U.S. audiences.

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Saturday, Nov. 29


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Sunday, Nov. 30


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Monday, Dec. 1


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Tuesday, Dec. 2


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