(Moscow) The first feature film shot in space was released in theaters in Russia on Thursday, arousing pride in Moscow for having beaten a rival project from the United States in the midst of a diplomatic crisis linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

To shoot The Challenge, a film about a surgeon sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to operate on an injured cosmonaut, Russia sent an actress and a director into orbit in October 2021 for 12 days.

The project, carried out with a bang to get ahead of a competing American initiative with Tom Cruise, is celebrated as a feat in Russia, recalling the space competition between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War.

“We are the first to have shot a feature film aboard a spaceship in orbit, again the first”, welcomed Vladimir Putin on April 12, who often plays on nostalgia for the Soviet era, when Moscow, for example, sent the first man into space in 1961.

In Moscow, onlookers parade past the Soyuz MS-18 space capsule, which brought the film crew back to Earth and is now on display in the famous Gorky Park.

“We are proud of our Russian actors,” says marketing specialist Polina Andreyeva. “I can’t imagine at all how you can fly in space, where everything is unknown, everything is foreign,” she told AFP.

“It’s very interesting to see how our people are progressing, that they were the first to make a film in space,” adds Tatiana Kulikova, a factory worker. “We are Russia, and Russia is always ahead,” she concludes.

If this film arouses so much pride, it is also because Russia has been going through a period of deep diplomatic crisis with the West since the launch of Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine in February 2022.

The United States and European countries have imposed a series of diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia.

For the moment, the space sector seems to be one of the last fields of cooperation between Russians and Westerners, even if the competition is fierce, especially since the emergence of private players, such as the American company SpaceX of Elon Musk.

A sign of state support, the film The Challenge is co-produced by the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the powerful public television channel Pervy Kanal, whose leader, Konstantin Ernst, does not hide his joy at having beaten Hollywood.

“We’re all fans of Hollywood’s 2013 space movie Gravity,” Ernst said Monday at a press conference introducing the Russian movie.

“But our Challenge, shot in real weightlessness, today brings out the digital special effects” of the American film, he tackled.

The sequences shot in the 230 m3 of the Russian module of the ISS and the participation of the three Russian professional cosmonauts stationed on board give an effect of authenticity to the film, previewed by AFP.

The challenge tells the story of the impossible mission of a surgeon, played by actress Yulia Peressild, sent to the ISS to save a cosmonaut injured by debris during a spacewalk.

Director Klim Chipenko, 39, who handled the camera, lighting and sound recording, recorded 30 hours of footage there, 50 minutes of which are used in the final cut.

The camera follows the 38-year-old actress moving through the cramped space of the ISS, her blonde hair floating weightlessly. The two neo-cosmonauts underwent accelerated four-month training before being sent into space.

The film cost “less than a billion rubles” ($16.4 million), according to Mr. Ernst.