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Recreating History
Although "K-19: The Widowmaker” is first and foremost a human story of courage, duty and impossible decisions, its roots in historical fact presented exceptional challenges. Recreating the actual nuclear submarine was a feat unto itself. Toward that end, precisely detailed reproductions of ten submarine compartments were built. Authentic down to the smallest knob and dial, K-19's interior is replete with Russian-language label plates and a maze of pipes. To achieve even more authenticity, production designers Kalli Juliusson and Michael Novotny went so far as to commission a Toronto company to create a complete set of dinnerware when a full complement of real naval dishes was unavailable.

But extremely authentic interior scenes alone were not enough. The exterior of the K-19 had to be thoroughly true to life as well. Since "the actual K-19 lies in a Russian ship graveyard, poisonous and decaying, unable to be revived even by Hollywood,” according to producer Edward S. Feldman, a new one had to be "cast” to play the role of the ill-fated sub. Producer Joni Sighvatsson began negotiations to borrow an old Soviet submarine on display in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"It became very confusing,” says Sighvatsson. "When I told people on the phone I was in St.Petersburg, they never knew if I was in Florida trying to secure the sub or in St. Petersburg, Russia, doing research. Ultimately, the deal went through and we towed the ship from Florida to maritime Canada. We faced so many major hurdles before the cameras even began to roll.”

As producer and Executive Vice President of Production for National Geographic Feature Films Christine Whitaker notes, "The Florida  submarine was smaller and a different class of submarine than K-19, but by the time our production designers did their magic, it looked like the genuine item.”

Filming at sea required director/producer Kathryn Bigelow to become a makeshift admiral, with an armada of almost 20 vessels and an army of marine experts under her command. In addition to the newly built replica of the K-19 itself, other important ships in Bigelow's production fleet were a decommissioned Canadian sub, reconfigured to play the Soviet vessel that was dispatched to rescue the K-19, and the Canadian ship Terra Nova, cast as the American destroyer USS Decatur. Also under Bigelow's command was the barge supporting a replica of the K-19 conning tower, a huge lifeboat, five tugs, a camera boat, two catering vessels, a fast transfer boat, six speedy Zodiacs, two large crafts for production personnel and a boat for the art and special effects departments – literally a flotilla of vessels all important for a successful shoot.

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