A Saskatchewan writer's family story is now a film by an Oscar-nominated director

Saskatchewan writer Dale Eisler's book Anton: A Young Boy, His Friend and the Russian Revolution is now a movie set to premiere in Chicago.

Dale Eisler's work of historical fiction finds its roots in a family tragedy

Dale Eisler published his fictional account of a dark day in his family's history years ago, but readers told him it would make a great movie, so he wrote a screenplay. (CBC)

A tragic moment in the family history of a Saskatchewan writer is now a film, directed by Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated director Zaza Urushadze.

Anton, adapted from Saskatchewan writer Dale Eisler's work of historical fiction Anton: A Young Boy, His Friend and the Russian Revolution, premieres this weekend in Chicago.

It's a story that Eisler had always known, but struggled to write.

Set in Ukraine in 1919, it tells the story, through viewpoint of a young boy, of the little-known struggle of Germans who had settled there to farm the land, but who then became the target of Bolshevik militias during the Russian Revolution.

A day in a farming village

At the heart of the story for Eisler is the killing of his grandfather in a farming village near Odessa, which was witnessed by his wife and their nine children.

When Eisler published the book in 2010, it came in the form of historical fiction. It was impossible to gather the facts from family members because, as Eisler recalled, they "would get very emotional so … I couldn't really explore it the way I wanted to."

[The family] would get very emotional.- Dale Eisler on the difficulties he encountered telling the story

There was one small, factual account of that day that left a deep scar on Eisler's family. It was found in a history book that helped prop up the family's TV in Eisler's childhood home.

"It talked about this particular village where my mother lived at the time," he recalled.

"[It said] 'on this date, 12 of the village's men were killed,' and then there was a footnote at the bottom of the page where they list the names of the people, and there was my grandfather's name.

"So that was the only kind of documented history I had of it."

A scene from the Russian Revolution in 1917. (The Associated Press)

From novel to screenplay

The book met with good reviews, and readers would often remark that the story would make an interesting movie.

So Eisler wrote a screenplay and pitched it in Hollywood, where it eventually ended up in the hands of Urushadze, a director who was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film for his 2013 movie Tangerines.

Eisler says he is pleased with Urushadze's adaptation of his novel and is excited about the Chicago premiere.

Sadly, he can't say when the film will screen here in Saskatchewan. 

"It's an art house-type movie with a pretty limited scope in terms of commercial interests," he said. "Subtitled movies just are like that."

If the movie is well received, Eisler says, he hopes it will come to this province in 2020. 


  • A previous version of this story indicated that the screenwriter's grandfather was killed in Odessa. It has been updated to indicate he was killed in a village near Odesssa.
    Oct 12, 2019 12:26 PM CT

With files from the Afternoon Edition