An interview with Boris Volodarsky and Dennis Dewall, director and producer of “”Spy Capital: Vienna””

Boris Volodarsky


«Cinema has been and remains one of the most powerful instruments of exerting influence on masses of people.»



“Spy Capital: Vienna” delves into the intriguing history of espionage in Vienna, offering a unique perspective on the city’s role as a hub for international espionage. What initially drew you to explore this subject?


First of all, we want to thank Rome Prisma Film Awards for selecting our film. We are very proud and happy because all members of our team love Italy and because we have been having a long and productive relationship with Rome for a long time. Our director, Boris Volodarsky’s first experience working with the cinema of Italy dates back many years ago when he was briefly working in Moscow with Rodolfo Sonego, an Italian screenwriter well known in the Soviet Union for his comedies. Naturally, Boris also met Alberto Sordi and Ornella Muti who came with Rodolfo as guests at the Moscow Film Festival together with Rodolfo’s wife Allegra. An important visit to Rome was in May 2007 as part of the Alexander Litvinenko investigation when Boris managed to visit Mario Scaramella in a Rome prison asking important questions related to the case.

Unfortunately, the group was not allowed to film this extraordinary interview that Boris later published in his books, the latest is The Murder of Alexander Litvinenko: To Kill a Mocking Bird (London, 2023). One chapter of the book also includes an investigation of the work of the KGB in Italy. In this work, an important contact was a former Italian senator, journalist and politician Paolo Guzzanti and his daughter, actress Sabina Guzzanti. Finally, you might have noticed that in Spy Capital: Vienna there is a small episode that deals with Italy and some political activities in your country directly sponsored by the Kremlin so Rome is a close place to us.


Dennis Dewall



Boris Volodarsky: Besides being a film director, I am also an intelligence historian specializing in the KGB, its predecessors and successors. All professionals know that Vienna has long been known as the capital of the world espionage but, surprisingly, before we did Spy Capital there has never been any film devoted to this unique phenomenon. Working on it we have made two discoveries: first, that Vienna actually became the spy capital 150 years ago when it hosted the 1873 World’s Fair. Second, that it never abandoned this role although some historians claimed that at a certain time, it was Berlin (1920s) and Paris (1930s). And ever Stockholm or Copenhagen in the late 1930s – early 1940s. In the film, we are seeking to show not only the intriguing history of espionage in Vienna but also its present and, logically, its future as the spy capital.


The documentary features a remarkable lineup of internationally renowned experts, including intelligence historians, former intelligence agency heads, and investigative journalists. Could you share your process of assembling this diverse group of experts, and how their contributions enriched the storytelling in “Spy Capital: Vienna”?


Because we have a director who is also a renowned intelligence historian of the major league, Boris knows all the important people in this field. We have made a list of professionals whom we want to interview and all of them immediately agreed.

It is quite obvious that their taking part in the film with their original and highly professional assessments, confessions and analysis enriched the film to a great degree because the spectators immediately recognize authoritative professionals whose word has a lot of value. It is one of the reasons why such people are in high demand. We are very proud to be able to bring them together in our film project.



The directorial style for “Spy Capital: Vienna” incorporates modern techniques, computer effects, and meticulous re-enactments of spy episodes based on original documents. How did you and director Boris Volodarsky strike a balance between historical accuracy and visual storytelling?


You are very correct in addressing this question to the director and producer although under normal circumstances there would be many more people involved.

Dennis Dewall: In our case, the historical precision and authenticity of re-enactments were secured by the director, who is a specialist, and the rest was my job. This, of course, is not to mention our cinematographers, all three of them from three countries (in this case we decided not to have one DOP) who did their best including the use of drones and sophisticated filming equipment. When we had raw episodes filmed, the director and I did all the rest in the cutting room with modern computer programs, filters and a lot of imagination. Our wonderful sound director Sorin Apostol also contributed a lot of work, I must add. As usual, if a scene looks well, modern and authentic, this is a collective effort. 



What would you mention as the major challenges you faced in recreating these spy episodes and ensuring authenticity throughout the documentary?


There were at least two very important factors alongside many others: we were shooting in real places where those (historical and modern) episodes took place. In Vienna, all of them still exist. For the Redl episode (1913), we were lucky to be able to film in a real Majestic Imperator Train of Franz Joseph, for the Nalivaiko episode (1955) it was an authentic café at the centre of Vienna, and for Möller case (2023) we used primary sources (authentic documents) showing where and how the episodes were developing.

So for the dead letter box, we used exactly the same hidden place in the Vienna Wood as shown in the picture from the investigation file. We also used a couple of unusual tricks. The second challenge was to find the right actors for the episodes because we only wanted to work with real people and not professional actors. Again, we were incredibly lucky to find absolutely authentic (and very talented) people for all historical (and modern) episodes.



Espionage, and the tension between Russia and the West, is a topic that is anything but out of date. Both you, the producer Dennis Dewall, and the director Boris Volodarsky have Russian origins. What resonances did you detect in working on this project between the events of the last century and current events in the global situation?


Boris Volodarsky: Dennis is an Austrian filmmaker with Russian roots. His great advantage is (besides many other wonderful talents and professional skills) that he speaks Russian and can understand the country better than a normal European. Otherwise, he studied film acting at Santa Monica College in California, lived in London and the USA and feels comfortable in any part of the world. I do come from the former Soviet Union, a country that does not exist anymore. But because of some unusual circumstances, from almost early childhood they prepared me to be a Westerner, to live in the West (especially in the English-speaking world) and not to differ from any German, British or Swiss citizen.

I am grateful for this special education. It was especially useful for me as a future intelligence historian (I defended by doctorate at the famous London School of Economics and Political Science with flying colours). I hope Dennis shall agree that espionage remains espionage for many thousand years and in this field there is no any difference (except technical achievement) between the Bible spies and the 21st-century spies. Spies always do only two things: steal secrets and organize influence operations. Sometimes people are getting murdered in the process but this is only a by-product. Espionage is indeed a serious business but this is also a dirty business.


As a filmmaker with a background in intelligence history, what message or understanding do you hope viewers take away from “Spy Capital: Vienna”? How does this documentary shed light on the nature of espionage, its historical significance, and its relevance in today’s world? How do you see the film contributing to public discourse on intelligence operations and their impact on international relations?


Boris Volodarsky: Let me divide the answer to this most important question into several parts.

We hope that after seeing the film our viewers will take away exactly what we want them to take away: that Vienna is a wonderful city which because of this and a couple of other factors became and still functions as the capital of the world espionage. And will probably not lose this role in the future.

This documentary is only a part of a planned series of espionage docudramas that includes our next project, the documentary KGB in London plus a few more. After this series is completed I shall probably be able to say, how it sheds light on the nature of espionage, its historical significance and its relevance in today’s world. Espionage plays an important part in politics but, strangely, remains a ‘missing dimension’ in political studies. Politicians, journalists and even historians do not study espionage as an academic subject and it is usually a gap in many studies and assessments.

Due to that, there is no ‘public discourse’ on intelligence operations and their impact on anything: most people perceive news about spies and spying exactly as they perceive some breaking news about sex scandals, celebrity marriages and other similar things.