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During Soviet times, Georg Ots was one of Estonia's trademark symbols, a singer so famous that the authorities named a ship after him. Recently a film has been made telling the story of the renowned singer and the political intrigues that complicated his life.

Ots was born in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) in 1920, the son of a renowned tenor. Before studying singing with the Estonian baritone Aleksander Arder in Yaroslavl, Ots was a young Navy Officer who had escaped a sinking ship and was taken prisoner in Russia. He was released a year later, and on his return home he auditioned for the conservatory in Tallinn.

After graduating from the Tallinn Conservatory in 1951, he won fame by performing parts such as the title roles of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and Verdi's "Rigoletto." The charming, brawny baritone was perhaps best known for his role in the film "Mister X," a 1958 musical that showcased his Humphrey Bogart-style charms along with his celebrated voice. He was married three times, to Margot, Asta and Ilona Ots respectively.

Ots was invited regularly to Leningrad. He appeared in all the important opera houses of the Soviet Union and was particularly admired at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. He was one of the most revered Soviet singers of his time until his untimely death in 1975. During an interview several years ago, Ots' last wife, the former model Ilona Ots, recollected indignantly how Ots had fallen from grace for the crime of being too Soviet.
"Everything that was Russian or Soviet is seen as bad now," she said. "But music, culture and sports are not politics, and Georg was always outside of politics."

The film's director Peeter Simm, however, believes that Ots' life is no longer the politically controversial issue it was in the early 1990s. "Ots is slowly coming back into the minds of people who have forgotten about him," he said.

The script was offered to producer Marten Kross three years ago by Enda Lehtmets, the manager of Lege Artis Film. "I had just finished a documentary with Estonian film director Peeter  Simm, this was my first film as a producer. After the premier of that documentary we spoke with Enda about possible future projects, when she suddenly said: "Wait a minute." and disappeared.  After ten minutes searching in her garage she came back with a yellowish film script in her hand. This was the script for a feature about Georg Ots and the only copy left of what was written by Mati Põldre and Aleksander Borodyanski eleven years ago."

"We offered the film to Peeter to direct and started work. All in all in the beginning it seemed quite impossible to do a film like Georg, but finally it appeared to be quite possible. The film was shot in Estonia, Finland and Russia with the script being in all three languages. It was a co-production of four film studios, so there was a lot of coordination to do. But with two years of planning, finally everything went smoothly - we where on schedule all of the time." said Marten. "The only hiccup being when our Russian co-producers fired the cameraman twice."

Renowned Estonian actor Marko Matvere stars as Georg. Two years ago he played Ots in a musical so he had plenty of preparation and experience. Famous Estonian actress Mirtel Pohla plays Margot, his first wife, Russian actress Anastasia Makejeva plays his second wife, Asta and professional model Karin Touart stars as Georg's third wife Ilona.

Renars Kaupers, the vocalist and front man of the internationally acclaimed Latvian band Brainstorm, plays one of the leading roles in the film. Renars plays the role of Georg's friend Caesar, a choreographer who taught the slightly burly baritone to move well on the stage and also supported and helped him in his personal life. This is not Renars' first film role. In 2000 he starred in a Latvian made motion picture, Vecas Pagastmajas Misterija (The Mystery of The Old Parish House), loosely based on real life events that took place in Krimulda, Latvia. It tells the story of an aging KGB agent (Eduards Pavuls) who is forced to live the rest of his life in a house in whose basement he had tortured and murdered people during the summer of 1941.

For the role of Caesar, Marten was looking at lot of candidates and did not find any he was happy with. Suddenly the idea came to him to try Renars, since he already had experience in the film industry. "I could not reach him by phone, so I sent him a SMS, asking if he would be interested and we started to exchange messages. In the beginning he did not sound too interested as he did not know who Georg Ots was. But after a few hours he called me back from St. Petersburg. Right after our discussion he went out of his hotel and there was a big white ship passing the hotel on the river. The name of the ship was "Georg Ots". After such a "big sign" he decided to come to the casting."

Georg is running in cinemas all over Estonia and Finland. In Estonia, during the first month of release there have been over 40,000 viewers. Georg will be premiering in Russia in February with Latvia's release date still to be announced.

By Larisa Medene

Photos by Marten Kross/Lege Artis Film