To create the film of The Falcon
, Greg flew off in March 1990 with a crew of actors, producers, engineers, photographers, a computer/shopping specialist, and a "location manager/ball wrangler." Their destination: Georgia, once called Colchis, home of Medea, the place to which Jason and the Argonauts sailed in search of the Golden Fleece. Despite limited finances and a cramped shooting schedule of only 16-1/2 days, despite heightened political tensions only about a year before Georgia would declare its independence from the Soviet Union, Greg intended to "shoot the first-ever co-production twixt Americans and Georgians. Our camera, our script, our language. Their country." The project was a genuine collaboration, by a cast half-Georgian and half-American, with Georgian and American co-directors, co-producers, co-techies. The result: not only a fine film for young audiences but the greatest adventure of Greg's life.
In searching through hundreds of Russian folktales for one to present on both stage and film, Greg had rejected those too violent, too scatological, too illogical—and some better suited to animation. Finally he discovered the story of Fenist the Bright Falcon
, which incorporates the familiar pattern of a quest. When offered a gift, Anna, the youngest of three sisters, rejects the vanities her sisters beg for and asks of her father only a falcon feather. The feather is (of course) magical: it transforms into a falcon, then a prince—which Anna's malicious sisters drive away, into the prison of the Tsarevna. To rescue her falcon prince, Anna must cross the nine mountains to the Tenth Kingdom, on the journey eating three stone loaves, wearing through three pairs of iron shoes, and breaking three iron staffs before at last outwitting the Tsarevna and freeing her captive.
Greg set his adaptation of Fenist
within a framing story, that of a young woman at her engagement party. An itinerant Storyteller joins the family party and presents the young couple with a gift—the story of Fenist and Anna, a story with "no moral" but "a question." After hearing his story, will the young woman proceed with her expected marriage or head off into the mountains?
In an interview with Soren Andersen of The News Tribune
[July 20, 1990], Greg discussed why this story in particular appealed to him. "It's hard to think of a Western-culture folk tale where the virgin saves the prince, and therefore I thought that was an interesting shift." He also felt that the story would work well on television/video. "Especially in video, a folk tale becomes more real. Remember, the children in the audience are used to watching television, which is a very literal medium; even when the story is clearly a fantasy, it has a base in reality—and the reality had better make some sense. That's one of the reasons I like working with strong heroines, who triumph not just because they're pretty and passive. For example, if The Falcon
was about Anna being rescued by Fenist the prince, I wouldn't have chosen it." [Jim Molnar, The Seattle Times
, July 8, 1990].
For all the many challenges, and the expense, of filming in Georgia, one aspect of the production cost nothing to create, and seemed genuinely magical—the setting and sets. They ranged from the 19,000-foot peaks of the Caucasus mountains to traditional buildings and props from throughout Georgia, preserved at the Georgian Folk Museum just outside Tbilisi (in Greg's description, "like the MGM back lot, Georgian style, except they're real buildings"). They, and Nana Gerasimova's elegant costumes, more than compensated for the frustration and dangers of antique electrical transformers and lighting equipment that constantly threatened to erupt into flames.
Back in Seattle, post production proceeded without delay so that the film could be broadcast across Russia on May Day 1990 (to an estimated audience of 200 million), aired at the Golden Fleece Film Festival on the Black Sea in June, and shown in Seattle (on both KING5 television and at the Seattle International Film Festival) during the Goodwill Games of summer 1990.
The film was also released in VHS format. It is not currently available, except at the rare library.
The Falcon production credits
Read Greg's article, "Greg Palmer's Glasnost Diary" [Seattle Weekly, May 9, 1990]: the subtitle is "Filmmaking and friend-making with a merry band of Georgian hosts." Thanks to Brian Miller for access to this article.
Read "'The Falcon' takes wing" by Jim Molnar, travel reporter for The Seattle Times, who visited the crew in Georgia [The Seattle Times, Sunday, July 8, 1990].
Read A Day with Jimmy Carter, an account by location manager/ball wrangler Cecilie Keenan of a day of shooting in the Caucasus mountains.