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From Siberia with love

13 february 2017

Hello, dear Keanu Reeves,

Writing to you is a simple Russian girl, Elena from a small town in Siberia. I'm a big fan of your creative work and always take delight every time I see your new film. And when I learned that you are going to play the leading part in the film named "Siberia" about illegal diamond trade in Russia, there was just no limit to my happiness. What a mercy it is that a great actor is to play in a film about my country! I am so overwhelmed that I decided to write this letter to you.

First of all, I want to say that this is a brilliant idea. It has long been observed that the word "diamond" works wonders with the public. It takes you mere adding the word to the description of any product and its sales start growing as if by magic. You should have seen, for example, what kind of delight is experienced by girls buying "shampoo enriched with diamond particles to produce brilliant shine." And if you put two identical nail files side by side, however describing one of them as being a “diamond” one, just guess which will be bought twice as often? I think this rule works for movies as well.

The idea is not only brilliant, but also utterly original. Illicit trade in diamonds in a faraway country - no one has ever shot anything like this! For example, the "Diamonds Are Forever" movie is not about diamonds, but about the fight of brave James Bond against a supervillain and terrorist. "Snatch" cannot be compared with "Siberia" either - it's a black comedy, not a good serious thriller about serious things (most importantly, please avoid calling any of the characters Boris the Blade). And certainly, never listen to critics who will say that all this has been featured in "Blood Diamond" - they are just jealous that their enfant cheri failed to win an Oscar.

Frankly, living in our small Siberian town we were somewhat surprised to find that the plot of this film will make you go to Siberia to sell diamonds. In Russia, rich people, who can afford buying rare blue diamonds, usually live in the country’s capital, and not in its distant provinces. Besides, Siberia is the place where Russian diamonds are being mined, and generally people come to Siberia to buy diamonds, not to sell. For some days, we were painfully trying to figure out, who could be such a buyer in Siberia. We even exchanged letters with a Siberian association of small towns, but for some reason they could not suggest anything plausible and insisted we better turn our eyes to Moscow. Finally, it occurred to us: perhaps your script writers just believe that all of Russia is located in Siberia! It is difficult to blame them, as we have a big country and it is really easy to get confused.

Some nerds from small diamond-mining towns in Siberia even tried to explain to us that the idea behind your script was basically meaningless. First, they said, Russia is recognized by the Kimberley Process as a country having an exemplary and strict system of control over diamond trade, and your character in the film carrying a diamond with a dubious certificate would have been subjected to the most meticulous customs check at the airport. This Russian KGB, you know, is always happy to lean over backwards and get another award for nailing a criminal. Second, it would be much easier for a foreigner to try and sell the stone in Moscow, as foreigners in this capital are not uncommon, but people are not accustomed to such an oddball flying on regional airlines and will be so curious that will not only spot the diamond, but will tell the breed of the dog, whose hair stuck to his left pant leg. You may, of course, assume that your character in the plot will take a train to bring the stone, but there's one problem: there is no railway to the Siberian towns where people are involved in diamond mining.

Finally, the nerds said, one should be an utterly brave madcap to try selling a diamond of dubious origin to people, who trade in diamonds in the world’s largest diamond mining country (especially when, for example, there are many rich and extravagant sheikhs or Hispanic millionaires in the world). Well, these nerds are boring indeed, aren’t they? I spent much time to convince them that the film was announced as a "romantic thriller", so perhaps it is not about diamond business, but about a deep drama of its lyrical character and his desire to make a reckless act.

However, something in their words made me discomposed. Whatever the situation, please do not swallow the diamond to smuggle it across the border. Even if your script writers tell you that this is safe. After they offered your character to sell blue diamonds to a buyer in a small Siberian town, I would treat anything they say very cautiously. Please remember: there was even a torture called “The death of Raja” in ancient India, when a person was forced to swallow a diamond and died of internal bleeding.  In the extreme case, just ask to replace a diamond by a candy, when the film shooting starts.

I consider it my duty to warn you and prevent from getting into a mess! There may be many entertaining scenes in this movie. For example, a spectacular hanging jump in the air, as in The Matrix. Surely your script writers, too, have read on the Internet that the air flows over the Russian diamond mines have such a power that they can throw a helicopter into the air. So, if you will be offered to play in a scene in which you are escaping from the Russian diamond mafia riding on bears and then, suddenly finding yourself on the edge of an open diamond mine, you jump and fly over it being born by a gust of strong wind and thus breaking away from the chase - do not believe it! Unfortunately, this is just another canard on the Internet.

There may be another canard involving the classic scene of a hapless worker who finds a diamond and tries to hide it from his superiors to save his poverty-stricken family from starvation. Alas, those tricks that are easily done in warm and loose African sands work poorly with Russian diamond ore compressed by permafrost to a depth of 5,000 feet. Having a 30-year work experience, diamond miners from small Siberian towns told me that they had never seen a single diamond - just because diamonds there can be extracted from frozen ore only at a processing plant after a whole series of treatments.

In general, I recommend to be careful depicting the local population. The Yakuts are not a numerically insignificant and oppressed nation and they are very proud of their ethnicity, their status and their connection to diamond mining. Using the money earned from diamond mining this indigenous people builds schools and hospitals, while workers in Yakutia receive wages which are three times higher than the national average in Russia, so there is usually a queue to get vacant "diamond" jobs from all over the country. Please also think of the fact that Yakutia’s authorities were once ready to sue James Cameron for the plot of "Avatar," which looked suspiciously similar to the plot of “Olonkho”, the Yakut national epic, of which Yakutia is holding the copyright, but has never received any royalties. They may easily get offended if they decide that they are presented in the film as illiterate savages, and you will then be dragged through the courts.

And please, never agree to don a soldier's overcoat on your character. Contrary to the belief of Hollywood costume designers, such attire went out of fashion in Russia about 30 years ago, along with fufaikas, ushankas and the word "comrade."

Following these simple rules, you can easily play a brilliant part in this film, which will eloquently reveal all the facets of your talent. Good luck to you, Mr. Reeves! And if you can, please leave at least a couple of autographs to women from the small Siberian town.


P.S.: «Is it some sort of clownery?" my readers will ask and will be absolutely right. Usually, when I write about the diamond market, I am maybe too serious. But what else is there left to do, but laugh when you see obviously absurd things?

Sometimes it seems to me that Hollywood scriptwriters come up with movies based on researching news over the past year: "Let's see what were the most Googled words – cinemagoers are obviously going in for that!" Last year, Russia and “blood diamonds” (the latter "thanks" to the Central African Republic, Congo and continuous scandal in the Kimberley Process) often caught the attention of the American public. Of course, it was even more enthralled by the US presidential candidates, but it will never occur to anyone to shoot a movie about them.

However, the problem is that scriptwriters very often ignore facts for the sake of a beautiful picture in the pursuit of high ratings and a good box office.

We already know one film about conflict diamonds, "Blood Diamond." It is, in general, tells the story of real events: the civil wars in South Africa in the 1990s and slave-based diamond mining organized by criminals to finance their wars. All this really happened – the wars, and the wretched oppressed local population, and children toiling at gunpoint, and dishonest merchants who grew rich on other people’s grief. The movie even ends with a scene of the conference in Kimberley, which gave birth to the Kimberley Process in real life, an organization that is now fighting conflict diamonds worldwide.

I still believe that "Blood Diamond" did even more for the development of the Kimberley Process than many of its initiatives. The film attracted overall attention to a grave problem and caused many people to treat more seriously what they were buying, demanding guarantees of origin for goods sold and teaching many jewelers to learn how to provide these guarantees and choose suppliers carefully.

But since the 1990s, much has changed. During the 15 years of its existence, the KP has achieved great success, creating a powerful inspection and certification system. Every parcel of diamonds is accompanied by a certificate of origin, especially when it comes to large precious stones of rare color. Today, the probability of purchasing a dubious diamond by a knowledgeable buyer is approximately zero, to say nothing of contriving to sell one. After all those stories about “bloody” gems, the diamond trade is regulated to such extremes that even a petty crime in it looks, in the first place, like a superspy operation, and secondly, it is harshly suppressed by industry stakeholders. Of course, they do it not because all of them are models of righteousness, but because everyone understands the simple truth that diamonds are not suitable for anything other than jewelry, in fact they are an emotional symbol for people and if this symbol is associated with scandal there will be no one to buy it.

However, we are unlikely to see anything about this in the film to be shot. All we so far know about its plot stems from a couple of pronouncements cited by mass media, but from them it is clear that the plot will accumulate all the horror cliches from the Internet to say that the world is still full of “dubious diamonds,” that the diamond trading environment is monstrously cruel (there is even a missing person in the film and there will probably be a few more deaths, otherwise you can’t call it a thriller) and that all this is happening in Russia - a country which, for political reasons, is inevitably associated with conflicts for many people. Do you think anyone will recall the certificates? Do you think anyone will recall that Russia was one of the principal initiators of the Kimberley Process, when there is a risk to miss such a politically relevant intrigue?

In fact, I am not even that concerned about the image of my country in this story. I wonder how many people after seeing "Siberia" will decide that diamonds are still dangerous and it is better to shun them altogether. If you are not apt to believe in such an impact of cinema, please read the reviews on "Blood Diamond" posted by RottenTomatoes, the most popular online movie critic in America. The theme, "I will never buy a diamond after seeing all this" is the second most popular after the discussion of Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting.


Dear Keanu Reeves, probably you do not read the media covering the diamond market and will hardly ever see this article of mine. But if all of a sudden it happens, I would like to address you directly, this time being serious. You have always produced the impression of an earnest and responsible person, who has never sought cheap popularity at any cost. It would be foolish to ask you not to act in this film. But I would like you to ask the scriptwriters to have a closer look at the theme to which this film is dedicated, avoiding at least to distort the facts. Hollywood will certainly survive another botched-up movie cultivating moth-eaten negative stereotypes, but by far not all your fans will welcome any connection between such films and your name.

Elena Levina for Rough&Polished


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