Love could be found in many places. As a last resort, maybe love can be found overseas in Ukraine.
In the documentary “Love Me, director Jonathon Narducci takes the viewers on a journey to follow a group of American men to Ukraine in observation of finding love in the global Internet dating age.
Here’s the synopsis:
Can people find love through the modern “mail-order bride” industry? Or is the international romance business just a scam? Sincere and unflinching, Love Me follows Western men and Ukrainian women as they embark on an unpredictable and riveting journey in search of love. Each character's experience exposes the myths and realities of this unique industry, while also exploring the much deeper, human story that is too often overlooked.
Forget everything you think you know about “mail-order" brides and get ready for an outrageously funny, touching and unforgettable look at the extreme lengths people travel for love.
“Love Me” is distributed by Gravitas Ventures and available on all digital platforms today.
Latino-Review had an exclusive interview with director Jonathon Narducci on his documentary. We talked about his challenges for the documentary, the men going overseas and Ukrainian culture that would shape this new mail-order bride industry.
Read the interview below.
Latino-Review: Could you tell me on where you came up with the concept for this movie?
Jonathon Narducci: The idea did come to me when I was a junior in college back around 2001. I actually received an e-mail from A Foreign Affair, who is one of the companies featured in the film. It was during the pre-Internet dating before when it was socially acceptable today. It’s even before I had a Friendster or MySpace account.
It was really bizarre to get this e-mail saying, “Hey! All these women in Russia want to marry you.” So my twenty-year-old self was looking at this bizarre idea that actually could happen. It was mail-order brides and was done with the Internet. It was a very new thing. That’s where I got the original idea from. It took me about twelve years to get around start shooting it.
Latino-Review: Hold on here. You had this in the back of your mind for nearly twelve years?
Jonathon Narducci: Yeah, it was really weird. Honestly, when you’re a young guy and graduated college—you want to make movies. Then reality hits that you have bills that needed be paid. So I never got to it.
I started directing commercials in 2008. That started going pretty well and had a career and some money. But, I figured I needed to do something. Then that film just came back to me. I went online and started to look back at it. Everything was exactly the same except for the countries have changed. Instead of Russia, it’s now on to Ukraine. Now there’s even more into Latin America like Columbia and Peru. I started to talk to some friends about it and got a producer to help me along the way.
Then we met with John Adams and agreed to be a part of the film. We got a little bit more into it as we started shooting. That was the genesis of it. So it was there for twelve years in the back of my head.
Latino-Review: You’re pretty fortunate that A Foreign Affair even lasted that long. A lot of companies barely lasted a decade especially online.
Jonathan Narducci: I think what’s so interesting about that company is that they were the first [company] to be doing that thing. They were ahead of the modern day Internet dating sites. I don’t even know if Match.com was even around back in 1998. They were forward thinking in a lot of ways.
If you go to the web site and look at the infrastructure today—it literally had not evolved. [Laughter] It’s stuck in the early 2000s. It’s funny. Then again, it shows the desires from these men and you could still run a pretty good company. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: Tell me on how you approached him and managed to convince him to go along with this documentary.
Jonathon Narducci: First of all, it’s not the only company I worked with. I also worked with Elena’s Models, a company based in Australia. It’s run by an ex-mail order bride named Elena. So I e-mailed a contact at Elena’s Models and they got back to me. I ended up going to Australia to sit down with her and her husband to talk about the film. She agreed to do that film at that point.
Now with A Foreign Affair and John Adams, it was a little bit longer of a process. I didn’t know why, but I found out later those two weeks into [speaking with him]. What I did was that I went into one of their sales meetings in these regional areas by renting a conference room. They will invite guys to come in and they do their presentations on what they do. I waited until that was all over after all the guys trickled out. His wife and daughter were there and I introduced myself. “Hey, my name is Jonathon.” I gave them a treatment, a visual proposal to explain on what I am doing. They said they’ll get back to me.
What I didn’t realize was that they had just been featured on Nightline that week. It was a total disaster. They were calling him a human trafficker. Nightline was smearing him completely. They were in a really bad mood to talk to the media.
I felt like it might have been the conversation with his wife, Tanya, on what I was trying to do. I went out and met with his other partners. We were in a boardroom and talked about it. One partner really liked the idea. Another partner hated the idea. And one partner, who was John, was in between. Somehow they ended up agreeing to facilitate.
They were really helpful. They didn’t hide anything from me. They facilitated everything at cost for all the travel. At the same time, I was completely unfiltered. I showed whatever I wanted to. That’s on how it happened in the point of view working with the company.
Latino-Review: Just like 12 years ago, didn’t you view all of this with suspicion?
Jonathon Narducci: Oh, of course! Absolutely. Going into it, I didn’t know if this was going to work. I knew I didn’t want to make a film about an expose about the scams to be had. I was looking for more on the character pieces on the kind of guy who would go over there. Honestly, I didn’t accomplish it as well as I wanted to. I also wanted to see on what kind of woman would come over here. Obviously, I did meet a couple of women who did come over. I developed a little bit of a relationship and got feedback into their world.
For the most part, on what I discovered, the whole industry is kind of false. Everything is a tiny scam. It’s like going to some cheesy island resort on where they charge you a little extra for everything. It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with A Foreign Affair or the tour company. That’s just the tourism economy surrounding Ukraine. It’s just the way it is there.
Everyone, all the restaurants, hotels and women, are setup to be tourism for marriage. Ukraine is a very big sex tourism place. Every hotel you go into, from the low-end to the high-end, there are two types of bars of one where you can go with your family and the other one with all the prostitutes. In fact, the Grand Palace Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in Kiev, has a strip club on the top floor. [Laughter]
It’s just a way that the economy there is setup for tourism. I was definitely suspicious to say the least.
Latino-Review: To be honest with you, I think it was more than a decade ago that I received one of those e-mails too. And my conclusion is with these web sites have these girls who are too pretty with fake names. I thought it was some kind of scam to send them money. It’s almost like going to Las Vegas to solicit love or something. [Laughter]
Jonathon Narducci: Yeah, I do have to agree with you. Almost every man had gotten that e-mail. It’s something about that spam e-mail from a mysterious person from an Eastern European country looking for love. It’s hilarious that some men would actually act on it.
Latino-Review: Tell me about the characters, the guys themselves. How did you approach some of these guys? How are they willing to go along with you on this?
Jonathon Narducci: That was the biggest challenge on making this film. We had no casting. We kind of went to Ukraine and started shooting. What happened was that A Foreign Affair would tell the guys before the tour that we were coming. If you don’t want to be shot, then tell us.
So for the first night, we were approaching every guy there. Most guys said yes, which was kind of surprising. I don’t know what it may be, but it might be something about the type of person who would go over there. It was probably someone who was a little bit desperate for attention and for somebody to talk to. I gave them that outlet. We became somebody who they could run questions by or share their feelings.
It’s type of guy who travels to Ukraine is definitely out of their comfort zone to find a woman who will spend the rest of their lives with. They’re very confused. I don’t think anyone was really embarrassed. You figured they would be embarrassed. I think most of the men, not all of them, this is the last way to find somebody.
They tried Internet dating. They tried dating in general. At this point, they have no other solutions to find somebody. I think it’s a matter of just talking with them.
Latino-Review: What conclusion of their personality types besides desperation that you can classify these men?
Jonathan Narducci: What I say is probably on the negative end, but not necessarily should be viewed it that way. I think there’s a little bit of a sense of misogyny for the men who go on these trips. I don’t want to say that all those men are not good people. I think most of them are there for good reasons, but some guys are definitely not good people. There’s some kind of myth that they can have their cake and eat it too. It’s the fantasy of having this young Eastern European submissive woman, who would love, clean and cook.
The reality is that it’s completely a myth and totally a fantasy. No Eastern woman is going to be submissive first of all. Or passive. They’re quite fiery women. They’re pretty strong willed. Whether or not they want to start a family is one thing, but for them to believe this 1950s housewife is a completely fantasy. Why would you want that? Is kind of weird, don’t you think? I thought it was kind of weird. Who wants a woman who doesn’t have an opinion, career or equalities that I have?
They are almost like living in this fantasy of a timed past. They thought they could get that in this country where the people are poor. It’s also that people may have the idea to exploit somebody else. The economy is bad there. The simple truth is that they want to come to a rich country. That’s what they believe. I think it’s partially true that most people want a better life for themselves, but they’re not going to marry someone thirty years older than them. Especially the fact that they cannot even communicate with them.
There are a variety of different characters. I tried to concentrate on the characters that aren’t the archetype that I’m describing right now. It’s about the people who are a little bit more honest with themselves or even more delusional than them.
We shot with a bunch of different people. I’ve probably interviewed over a hundred different men that we met in Ukraine. We whittled it down to five or six stories for the film.
Latino-Review: The one thing I’m surprised with them was that they weren’t shy. They didn’t appear to be that shy went they went over to Ukraine.
Jonathan Narducci: The guys?
Latino-Review: Yeah, the guys.
Jonathan Narducci: They were pretty shy. They would wait for women to approach them most of the time. There’s one character, Ron, who was very outgoing. He had a lot of confidence, but he didn’t even know what he was doing there. He was kind of confused, I think. It was a last minute purchase and let’s us see if this will work. Right away, he figured out it wasn’t the right way to find someone to be with. We followed him and he was pretty confident.
Most of the other guys were pretty shy actually. They held themselves back.
Latino-Review: Did you also discover that the women were also as desperate? Do you think they just want to take advantage of these guys to leave the country?
Jonathon Narducci: I don’t think that most of the women that participate in these socials actually wanted to leave their country. I kind of feel like they almost just doing it for extra cash or something like that. They’re not necessarily being prostitutes, although prostitutes do exist there. They will go out with guys and these guys will buy them stuff. Right off the bat, they’ll be buying them a computer on a first date. Why wouldn’t you go out with somebody where the economy that has the women paid seventy percent less than the men? They treat it like another job. It’s just another way to generate income.
So if they can go on a date every week to get a free computer, which is like $400. They can make a decent living. I don’t know if there’s an actual genuine amount [of women]. I do think there are some women that go there and are curious. Maybe somebody will be there that’ll be interesting. There’s always that hope in the back of their mind.
I don’t think it’s necessarily they want an American man. Maybe it’s just somebody like we all want. They’re all human people that we’re talking about. They all want that connection with somebody else. People want to have that romantic inclination and feelings.
Those women may be desperate for that, but I don’t think it’s any different from the women here that go on Tinder or any other kind of web site.
Listen. Things have changed in the last two years since I’ve stopped shooting. Their economy completely tanked. There’s probably a lot of desperation that’s going to start happening. The potential customers these companies use know this. I don’t think the fact there’s a war in Ukraine is actually deterring men from going. They are probably helping themselves.
Latino-Review: What do you suppose was the most difficult thing you had to do for this project?
Jonathon Narducci: I think the most difficult thing was the determination to keep doing it. It was a very naïve process of making the film. The challenge was with finding the characters and seeing somebody to actually be successful. I really didn’t think it could happen, because I constantly seeing failure and delusion. No one was being honest with themselves or anyone else. It was frustrating to find that success story.
I needed to show both sides of the story—the scams, the failures and with the successes. That was the biggest challenge.
Latino-Review: Besides promoting this film, do you have any future projects for yourself?
Jonathon Narducci: I’m in the process of shooting another film right now, which is another documentary. It’ll probably be done in the end of 2016 or into 2017. I am following the path or journey of this same sex couple in France coming to America to have a child. It’s because surrogacy is illegal all around the world. There are a lot of issues surrounding surrogacy in France with children born through this process. They’re in the midst of changing their laws on it, but they’ve been holding back the citizenship of these children born through surrogacy. These children are called, “Ghosts of the Republic,” which is the title of the film.
Latino-Review: Wow. You’re still working hard and going international.
Jonathon Narducci: Yeah. Why make it easy, right? [Laughter] Luckily, they’re coming to California and Nevada to have their child. Other than going to France, at least some of the shooting will be close to me. That’ll be a lot easier for me.
Latino-Review: At least you get to travel. Hey, I appreciate this conversation.
Jonathon Narducci: Thanks. I do appreciate you doing this as well.
Documentary "Love Me" is available today on all digital platforms.