Video by Wes Hurley and Nathan Miller
“The first time you hear this story, your jaw is on the floor,” said Nathan Miller in a recent interview with The Atlantic. “You just can’t believe it.”
Miller is referring to a true story—his co-director Wes Hurley’s life story, to be exact. It comes to vivid and uproarious life in their short documentary, Little Potato. Told through artful film projections and interviews with Hurley and his mother, Elena, the film chronicles Hurley’s stranger-than-fiction experience emigrating to America from Soviet Union Russia.
“There’s a twist at the end that I don’t want to give away,” said Hurley, “but when it actually happened in real life, I recall thinking, ‘My life has turned into a Pedro Almodovar movie. I have to make this into a film.’”
Elena and Hurley describe the grim living conditions they endured in the USSR, including corruption, food scarcity, violence, and threats of persecution due to Hurley’s burgeoning homosexuality. Pirated American movies provided them some welcome escapism, but it was a temporary reprieve; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, things went from bad to worse. That’s when Elena decided to take matters into her own hands.
As a mail-order bride, Elena flees with Hurley to Seattle to live with James, a Christian fundamentalist who she describes in the film as “unpredictable.” He is attracted to Elena’s ostensibly Russian-Orthodox upbringing. Little did they know, mother and son would be trading one form of oppression for another. But this time, relief would come with a plot twist—and a happy ending fit for an American movie.
Though she’s still getting used to viewing herself on the big screen, Hurley said that his mother is ultimately proud of the film.
“At the end of every screening, she’s everyone’s hero, so it’s a bit of a surreal experience for someone who’s a bit of a hermit,” Hurley said. “She also can’t wrap her head around the fact that so many parents are not as supportive of their LGBT kids as she was of me. So people’s passionate reactions to her unconditional acceptance of me are both sweet and very strange to her.”