Sunday, January 31, 2021

The making of "Operation Odessa" is as absurdly improbable as the story detailed in the movie

The movie is on Netflix and is about three hustlers, including a Jewish mobster that calls himself "Tarzan," procuring increasingly more powerful Russian military vehicles for the Colombian drug cartel. (Every single word seems like a lie, but then they show you photographs...)

CBS interviewed director Tiller Russell:

"I jumped on a plane to Panama with $10,000 taped to my legs knowing I'd have to peel off bribes to get into this prison," explains Russell. "I went out to the prison -- La Joya on the outskirts of Panama City -- where Tarzan was locked up and I paid the guard $1,000 to smuggle me in."

Russell says he had to sprint across a yard full of convicts in order to get to Tarzan's cell.

"It sounded like the worst plan, but I'd come all this way," he says. "I crossed the yard and pushed the door and there was a gregarious, larger-than-life, charismatic lunatic."

Russell calls his few days in the prison "like it was out of 'Mad Max.'"


But in spite of all of his efforts, Russell says soon, Fainberg "clammed up" after Russian mobsters got wind that he was talking to a filmmaker.

"I said, 'I smuggled myself into a f**king Panamanian prison. What do you mean?' He told me to go to hell and we left on kind of bitter terms, but we stayed in touch over the years," says Russell. Russell adds that Fainberg would send him videos of prison riots or new convicts coming in with texts like, "Merry Christmas from Tarzan."

Years later, Russell says he got an email with the subject line "Jailbreak."

"When I opened it, it said, 'I busted out of prison in Panama, crossed into Costa Rica, caught a boat to Cuba, repatriated to Moscow. Let's make a movie,'" he says.