Writer/director Steve Kleiman was off exploring what American freedom meant to him on a series of extended trips abroad. Part of this research exercise was to construct a feature film narrative revolving around this same subject matter. Kleiman visited concentration camps, battlefields, and torture chambers not just from World War II but from events stretching back millenia.
In Russia Kleiman visited the prison where Francis Gary Powers, a U2 spy plane pilot shot down in 1960, was held for eighteen months. Then on a tour of the KGB museum in Moscow, he was amazed to find a huge display showcasing Powers' cyanide needle that was sewn into his flight suit. Although not officially ordered, U-2 spy plane pilots routinely carried the means to commit suicide to avoid enemy capture.
The needle was exhibited with chunks of Powers' wrecked plane and photos of him on trial before the Supreme Soviet, the U.S.S.R.'s analog to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Soviets used the proceedings to mock and condemn the American way of life.
The KGB Museum depicts Gary Powers as the hallmark of American weakness. Captions explain he lacked the stomach to pay the ultimate price. Many Cold War Russians viewed Americans as full of patriotic talk without tolerance for sacrifice.
Gary Powers' dilemma seemed connected to the material Kleiman was working on. How does patriotism play into our daily lives? Is there something less than a wartime dynamic that lets one prove oneself? Powers' needle captured the ambiguities of this complex issue.