NYCMidnight · Writing

Little Sparrow

Here it is… my screenplay for Round Two of the NYCMidnight Short Screenplay competition. Historical fiction in 72 hours was quite the challenge!! Hope you enjoy it!

Маленький Воробей

(Little Sparrow)

 

Josef Stalin, the father of the Soviet Union, rose to terrifying heights of power in his bloody pursuit of the Communist Revolution. Yet none felt the hammer of his dictatorial fist as firmly as I, Svetlana, his only daughter. 

 


FADE IN:

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT

SVETLANA, a frail, 85-year-old
woman with thinning white hair sits at a desk next to a window. An oil lamp burns beside her despite the glow of fluorescent overhead lighting. She’s writing in a journal.

SVETLANA (V.O.)

September 10th, 2011

 

I first came to America in 1967. After a lifetime under my father’s strict rule, I felt like I was able to finally fly free. Papa called me his Little Sparrow. A bird I was, and fly away I did.

SERIES OF SHOTS – IMAGES ON
60S-ERA POSTCARDS THAT FALL ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER

A) A transcontinental airliner

B) Svetlana arriving in New York

C) Svetlana signing books

D) Svetlana speaking with an American intelligence officer

SVETLANA (V.O., CONT’D.)

America gave me the freedom
to express my struggles publically. Both the American public and the
intelligence community were fascinated by my life as “Stalin’s daughter.” And
though I was free of my father’s grasp, his shadow followed me wherever I went.

 

MONTAGE – WWII ERA SOVIET
UNION

A) Josef Stalin commanding his army

B) The Siberian work camps

C) >Stalin hugging a young Svetlana

SVETLANA (V.O., CONT’D.)

The world knew Papa as the Red Tsar, who rose to terrifying heights of power upon the mountain of bones of any who challenged him. I might have been the sole person alive who could ever stand up to him. Though even I could not do so without repercussion.

FADE
TO:

INT. KREMLIN – DAY

Sixteen-year-old Svetlana, dressed in 1940s clothing, brusquely enters her father’s office. She slams an open magazine onto his wide desk. (JOSEF) STALIN, 60s, graying hair, wearing a military uniform, writes in a ledger. He doesn’t look up from his work.

STALIN

Yes, Little Sparrow, what is
it?

SVETLANA

You told me my mother died of
illness.

STALIN

(glances at magazine;
resumes writing)

And?

SVETLANA

This says my mother killed
herself.

     (points to the magazine)

‘Shot herself,’ it says. Why
would she do that, Papa?

STALIN

(scans the magazine; resumes
writing)

Are we to believe everything the West puts in print? There’s a war going on. The West believes we’re the enemy.

SVETLANA

(quietly)

Are we the enemy?

(beat)

Papa, look me in the eye and tell me it isn’t true. Tell me my mother died from illness.

STALIN

(looks at Svetlana)

Your mother died from illness.

SVETLANA

I don’t believe you.

STALIN

(stands; places both hands
on the desk and leans forward)

Harsh words, Little Sparrow, and too bold. Leave me.

Svetlana pauses. She picks
up the magazine and leaves the room holding her head high.

FADE
TO:

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT

NURSE, 30s, wearing scrubs,
enters the room. Sets a cup of tea on 85-year-old Svetlana’s desk. Svetlana looks up and smiles at the nurse.

NURSE

Do you need anything else?

SVETLANA

When I was a little girl, my papa would ask what I needed. No matter what I asked for, he’d kiss me and say, ‘Ya podchinyayus.’

NURSE

Beg your pardon?

SVETLANA

‘I obey.’

(beat)

Don’t you worry about the ramblings of an old woman. Thank you kindly for the tea.

NURSE

If you need anything else,
just let me know.

The nurse exits the room. Svetlana takes a sip of her tea and continues writing.

SERIES OF SHOTS – STALIN-ERA SOVIET UNION

A) Men laboring in the Siberian work camps

B) Newspaper with headline: Six Million Perish in Soviet Famine

C) Starving children and adults

D) A circle of the living surrounding a pile of the dead

SVETLANA (V.O.)

My father was responsible
for more than 20 million deaths — and that was just our fellow countrymen. As
he rose to power, our citizens quaked in the night, fearing that they’d be next
on the train to a Siberian work camp or to have their food stores seized.
Absolute obedience was expected of the Red Tsar’s demands. As I got older, that
went for me, as well.

FADE
TO:

INT. KREMLIN – DAY

Stalin sits at his desk. A COMMISSAR from the Soviet NKVD stands, facing Stalin. Stalin hands the Commissar a photograph.

STALIN

His name is Aleksei Kapler. He’s a Jewish filmmaker and an enemy of the Party. Arrest him immediately.

COMMISSAR

What of his punishment?

STALIN

Ten years in the labor camps.

(beat)

Your men may practice their skills on him, but I expect him to still be breathing when he arrives in Siberia.

COMMISSAR

Ya podchinyayus, Vozhd. It will be done at once.

FADE
TO:

EXT. KREMLIN COURTYARD – DAY

Stalin sits at a patio table covered in documents. Seventeen-year-old Svetlana stands beside him, tears in her eyes.

SVETLANA

Papa, I beg you to reconsider. Aleksei is a good man.

STALIN

(stern and scolding)

What do you know of men? This one leads you astray. Dancing. Books. What other manner of indulgences you’ve undertaken with him I am loathe to imagine.

SVETLANA

I love him, Papa. I wish to marry him.

STALIN

(stands and lunges at
Svetlana; slaps her face)

Look at yourself, foolish girl! He’s a Jew and an enemy.

SVETLANA

(inhales sharply)

Papa, please! Don’t send him to Siberia. He’ll not survive.

STALIN

(shouts)

He is filth. He deserves his fate for corrupting my daughter.

SVETLANA

(defiantly)

There was a time when you’d do as I asked without fail.

STALIN

There was a time when you made reasonable requests.

SVETLANA

(beat)

How far will you go, Papa? I hear you giving orders daily. How many more of our own countrymen have to die?

STALIN

As many as it takes to root out our enemies. Did your history teachers not prepare you for the realities of our world?

SVETLANA

Realities? The reality is that this world lives in terror of you!

STALIN

(steps closer, challenging
posture)

My rule has brought safety to our country. Safety from our enemies in the West, and protection from their capitalist ways. It’s because of me that we’ve risen to greatness. If fear is what motivates, then so be it.

SVETLANA

You wonder what history has taught me? Any ascent to absolute power ends in destruction. I fear the heights
to which you’ve risen. No matter how much land or how many lives you claim, it isn’t enough. You have destroyed everyone in your path. You’re destroying
someone I love. What’s next, Papa? I fear you are destroying your own soul.

Stalin raises his hand to strike her. She stands strong. He lowers his hand.

STALIN

If you were any other, I’d have you detained for such heresy and insolence.

     (beat)

Svetlana…

(beat)

…my Little Sparrow, I’ve shown Aleksei great mercy. He’ll be of use to the Communist Revolution in the camps. You’d do well to be grateful. Now leave me. I have work to do.

SVETLANA

Papa…

Stalin waves his hand dismissively. Svetlana leaves the courtyard, her shoulders slumped.

FADE
TO:

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT

The nurse enters. 85-year-old Svetlana looks up from her writing.

NURSE

It’s time you got some sleep.

SVETLANA

I want to return to my cabin in the woods tomorrow. This place is cold.

NURSE

I can speak with your doctor. We want you to be comfortable.

SVETLANA

I’ve never known comfort. Not in any country, nor in any home. Did you know that I came to America after burying a man my father forbade me from marrying? I called myself his widow regardless.

(laughs)

FADE
TO:

INT. UNITED STATES EMBASSY,
NEW DELHI, INDIA – NIGHT

United States Ambassador (CHESTER) BOWLES, 50s, gray hair, wearing a business suit and tie, sits across the desk from 41-year-old Svetlana. He dials a number on a rotary telephone.

BOWLES

I have a woman here who states she’s Stalin’s daughter, and we believe she’s genuine. Came to India on a visitor’s visa. She’s requesting asylum. I’m putting her on a plane to Rome so we can think it through.

(pause)

I’m not giving her any commitment that she can come to the States. I’m only enabling her to leave India.

Bowles hangs up the phone. Wrings his hands.

BOWLES (CONT’D)

Well, that’s settled.

SVETLANA

What’s settled? That I can go… somewhere?

BOWLES

If you’d like, we can return you to Moscow.

SVETLANA

I told you, my father is
dead. I just buried my husband. I’ve denounced Communism and all it stands for. They’ll surely kill me if I return.

BOWLES

You’ll pardon me for saying, ma’am, but asylum for the Red Tsar’s daughter is a mighty big request. Don’t count too heavily on America accepting you.

(leans in)

Unless you want to give us something
in return.

SVETLANA

What do you mean?

BOWLES

You have a lot of first-hand knowledge. If you have some E-ticket intel, it could go a long way. But you’d better not try to put one over on us. 

SVETLANA

I did overhear many of my father’s private conversations and I witnessed much. I want to tell someone. I feel
like I need to. If I tell what I remember, do you think America would take me?

BOWLES

You would do it?

SVETLANA

What do I have to lose?

Bowles picks up the phone and dials again.

FADE
TO:

INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – NIGHT

85-year-old Svetlana sits alone in her room at the desk. She closes her journal and blows out the wick on the oil lamp.

Pan out the window and up into the sky, looking downward, showing the city at night, then the USA, then the Earth from space.

SVETLANA (V.O.)

My dearest Aleksei, soon and I’ll be with you again. Had Mama married a simple carpenter, life for both of
us might have turned out better.

 

My only wish now is that my words continue to serve as a warning: the height of absolute power is to be feared. For, when its wielder is left unchallenged, the entirety of the world will surely suffer.

FADE
TO BLACK.

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7 thoughts on “Little Sparrow

    1. Thanks! That was my aim… I wanted to personalize and humanize the connection between Svetlana and Stalin, but still remind the world that just under his “fatherly” appearance loomed the dictator that the whole world feared. Not an easy feat!!

      Like

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