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April 16, 2004

A Foreign Affair

Listen to an interview with Geert on WGVU radio.

A quirky movie about romance tours to Russia will open in Grand Rapids on May 7 at Celebration Cinema. That opening will be accompanied by a Phoenix opening and a Los Angeles opening.

"A Foreign Affair" was written by 1993 Calvin graduate Geert Heetebrij, who also worked on the film as a producer.

The premise of the film, which stars David Arquette (Scream, Eight Legged Freaks), Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother Where Art Thou, Holes) and Emily Mortimer (Lovely & Amazing, Bright Young Things) is relatively simple: two brothers have for years relied on their mother to care for them and are thrown for a loop when she dies. Their solution? Go on a two-week romance tour” in search of a wife who can replace mom in the cooking and cleaning department.

Blake Nelson plays older brother Jake. He hatches the idea to go to Russia for a wife. Arquette plays younger brother Josh, a painfully shy homebody whose world is rocked when mom dies.

When they get to St. Petersburg, Jake methodically interviews one potential Russian bride after another, attracting the attention of a journalist (Mortimer) filming a documentary on the romance tour phenomenon. But Josh, unable to get with Jake's program, is transformed by the city and its women into an outgoing playboy, putting his brother's plan in jeopardy.

Both Heetebrij and director Helmut Schleppi felt the only way to tell a realistic story about romance tours would be to actually experience one. They contacted Phoenix-based A Foreign Affair (AFA) about joining a tour (after getting the permission of their wives!) and soon thereafter they were on their way to Russia.

There they had a chance to talk at length with "fellow tour members." Many were too busy to waste time on anything but finding a wife, but others became more responsive when they learned the two were only there for the research and weren't part of the competition.

The on-site experience got, at some points, surreal for Heetebrij and Schleppi. At the end of one night, after being back in their hotel room for not more than a few minutes, the phone rang. "Hotel Security asked if we wanted them to send us a young lady," Schleppi recalls. Heetebrij politely declined the offer. But that was when the first stage of writing the script began.

On the third day, they met a witty French journalist named Angela who had just spent six grueling months covering the war in Chechnya and then was assigned to complete a story on romance tours. She was deeply offended by the entire tour phenomenon but, strangely enough, seemed to warm up to both Schleppi and Heetebrij, although she did tell them that "Men are beasts and you should show that in your film."

When they weren't talking to tour clients or would-be brides, Schleppi and Heetebrij spent time on pre-production scouting around the St. Petersburg area. They visited the city's Theatrical Institute to scout for actresses and various film schools in the region for other crew and affordable equipment.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)