SXSW 2018: Operation Odessa

Leonid “Tarzan” Fainberg with unidentified Soviet Admiral posing beside a foxtrot submarine purchased on behalf of the Cali Cartel. Photo Credit: International Fugitive Nelson Tony Yester

Operation Odessa is a documentary that goes behind the scenes of what happened when a mobster, playboy, and a Cuban spy sold a Soviet submarine to the Cali Cartel, a Columbian drug cartel.  The story is so crazy that it is completely insane.

It was 1997 when a federal task force had uncovered a plot to sell a Soviet submarine to a Columbia drug cartel for a whopping $35 million.  The feds were under the belief that a Russian gangster, Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, was the mastermind behind the plan but they were wrong.

Flash back to 1991.  Tarzan, as Fainberg is better known, had been an enforcer for the Gambino family.  While most immigrants dream of a better life in America, Tarzan had dreams of becoming a gangster.  He found himself living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, working for the Gambino family but when his partner was killed, Tarzan headed south where he bought a strip club in Miami and named it Porky’s in honor of the film.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Porky’s soon becomes the home of those involved with organized crime.  It’s in Miami where Tarzan connects with playboy Juan Almeida.  The two of them would go back and forth to Russia, where they can take advantage of all the items being sold on the black market.  It didn’t matter what.  Tarzan was able to connect with the people in charge while Juan had all the clients wanting to buy items and of course, money.

Bring in the United States government in the late 1990s.  The Miami police, the DEA, the FBI, the US Marshalls and the US Customs Service all came together to form Operation Odessa.  This was a federal task force that was solely created in order to tackle the inundation of the rising Russian crime scene in South Florida.  It’s only after they bring in Special Agent Alex Yasevich that they were able to brown down Tarzan and learned that there was a mystery man in the picture:  Nelson Tony Yester.  Tony was trained as a Cuban spy and remains an international fugitive at large to this day.

Operation Odessa is so insane but you have to see it just to believe that this was a true story that actually happened.  As wildly unbelievable as the film may be, it’s one that is best told as a documentary while a narrative feature film would still be just as intriguing.

DIRECTOR:  Tiller Russell
FEATURING:  Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg, Juan Almeida, Nelson Tony Yester, Kristy Galeota, Tony Galeota, Brent Eaton, Mike McShane, Dick Gregorie

An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Operation Odessa premieres as part of the Documentary Spotlight program.  Showtime will air the documentary on Saturday, Mar 31 at 9 PM ET/PT before being made available on demand on April 1, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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