Harrison Ford as Chechnya Aid Worker

Date: March 14, 2002
Source: The Moscow Times
By Oksana Yablokova, Staff Writer


Fresh from starring in a movie about a Soviet submarine disaster, Harrison Ford is teaming up with the screenwriter of the Oscar- winning "Gladiator" to film the story of U.S. aid worker Fred Cuny, who vanished in Chechnya in 1995.

Ford, who is co-producing the film, will play the lead role of Cuny, whose career as a disaster relief worker spanned 25 years and some 30 projects in war and disaster-ridden areas across the world, German film company Internationalmedia said in a statement.

Cuny went missing during a trip to Chechnya in 1995 at the height of the 1994-96 military campaign. He is believed to have been executed along with an interpreter and two Russian doctors while attempting to negotiate a Russian-Chechen cease-fire.

Production of the film is to start in early 2003 for an as-yet unscheduled release date, Internationalmedia said. The film will be based on "The Lost American," a 1997 documentary by David Fanning. Fanning will also serve as a co-producer. The screenplay will come from "Gladiator" screenwriter William Nicholson.

The feature film project is the brainchild of Ford, who narrated Fanning's documentary shown on Public Broadcasting Service in the United States. After being pitched the idea of the Cuny biopic, Ford brought the project to producer Doug Wick, with whom he had previously collaborated on the 1988 best picture Oscar nominee "Working Girl," Daily Variety reported.

"Ford has been the driving force behind the Cuny project," Wick told Daily Variety. "He felt the story must be told."

Renowned Mexican director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is in negotiations to direct the project, Daily Variety said.

Ford, 59, portrays a Soviet navy captain in his most recent movie "K- 19: The Widowmaker." The story, based on the 1961 nuclear submarine disaster that claimed 22 lives, is scheduled for release in U.S. theaters July 19.

His next film promises to be a lively account of Cuny's life and career, which started in the late 1960s and took him to war and disaster zones in countries such as Iraq, Somalia and Yugoslavia.

Cuny's relief efforts have changed the way workers respond in war- and disaster-ravaged nations, according to the book "The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life & Disappearance of Fred Cuny," by Scott Anderson. For example, refugee camps that Cuny founded after a powerful earthquake demolished Nicaragua in 1972 became models for other camps. Until then, refugee camps had been built in a square grid pattern of large high-occupancy huts. Cuny's camps outside Managua used single-family tents clustered around a communal area and had much healthier conditions than other camps. Residents kept order themselves and there were no epidemics.

Operation Provide Comfort, Cuny's military relief effort to Iraqi Kurds, is credited with helping save hundreds of thousands of lives.

In Somalia, the U.S. government ignored his advice on arranging a humanitarian operation and events deteriorated exactly as he predicted they would, according to "The Man Who Tried to Save the World." In Sarajevo, Cuny had to trick, bribe and cajole Serbs to look the other way as his engineering team diverted water from a nearby river to a thirsty city whose water supply system had been destroyed in fighting.

But he had little time to do much in Chechnya. Cuny, 50, traveled to the republic for an initial visit in February 1995 as a consultant for the Soros Foundation. He returned on March 31 to reassess plans to open a hospital in Dagestan and deliver humanitarian supplies to people left homeless by the Chechen war. But he was never seen again.

Cuny's son and brother flew to Russia after he vanished, complaining that Russian officials had failed to conduct a competent search due to a complete lack of coordination between Russian, Chechen and Ingush officials.

Five months after Cuny's disappearance, his family called a news conference in Moscow to announce that they had called off their search. They accused Chechen rebels of murdering Cuny and suggested the Federal Security Service, or FSB, had indirectly led to his death by fomenting a disinformation campaign in Chechnya against him. They said the FSB had falsely stated Cuny had strong feelings against Islam and that his companions were employees of the FSB.


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