Edmonton boy earns a role in Vegreville-shot movie; raising dollars for Stollery and kids' mental health

NICK LEES, EDMONTON JOURNAL      September 22, 2019

L.A.-based movie and TV actor Troy Ruptsh chose Edmonton's Daniel Mazepa, 8, for a major role in his movie They Who Surround Us, which he is filming in and around Vegreville. 

Edmonton’s eight-year-old Daniel Mazepa has won a leading role in a movie being shot around Vegreville that honours Ukrainian settlers and their culture.


The movie, They Who Surround Us, is written and directed by Troy Ruptash, formerly of Vegrevilleand well-known for starring in many film and television shows.


Shooting is about to begin and some 40 crew and cast members are in Vegreville utilizing local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and amenities.


A large percentage of the town, with a population of roughly 5,700 and situated about 103 kilometres east of Edmonton on Highway 16A, is of Ukrainian-Canadian descent.


“I’ve been working in the film and television industry for nearly 30 years with some amazing experiences and opportunities, but nothing compares to coming back to Vegreville to tell the story of my ancestors,” says Ruptash, now based in L.A.


“It’s an intergenerational story which moves from a partisan army struggling in the forests to keep Ukraine’s identity, to a young Alberta farmer haunted by the past as he deals with incredible grief after the sudden loss of a loved one.” Many boys auditioned for the role of Mykola and Ruptash, who stars in and directs the movie, had them narrowed down to a handful when Mazepa walked in.


“Daniel auditioned last and as soon as he read the first scene, the air in the room changed,” says Ruptash. “It’s that magical thing that happens with some actors. He is my Mykola. I knew it from the first moment I met him.” Ruptash, trained at the Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre School, was cast in the first Law and Order television series and went on to work with many award-winning writer/directors.


He has had recurring, guest star and guest roles on more than 50 network and cable TV shows, including Mad Men; ER; The West Wing; Desperate Housewives and NCIS. Last year Ruptash’s screenplay, They Who Surround Us, was a finalist in the Duplass Brothers’ Hometown Heroes Competition, the $10,000 prize of which was to help kick-start the winner’s movie.

Ruptash was a finalist, didn’t win, but decided Ukrainians and their culture are extremely underrepresented in the film industry and carried on working on his movie.


Many former Vegreville friends, with a wealth of movie-making experience between them, have gathered to help produce the project, which should be ready for film festivals and distribution in 2020. Mazepa is a grade three St. Matthew Elementary School student who dances with the VerkhovynaSchool of Ukrainian Dance. He concludes: “Mixing with the cast is really cool.”

Alberta movie casts Hollywood and Edmonton talent

They Who Surround Us, a full-length feature movie which begins filming in Vegreville, Alberta, Canada and surrounding area on Sept. 18, 2019, has announced several key cast members.


Playing the role of Natalia is Ali Liebert, a Canadian Screen and Leo Award winner (Best Actress in a Featured Supporting role in a Dramatic Series for her portrayal of Betty McRae in Reelz / Global TV’s Bomb Girls). Liebert most recently guest-starred on BH90210 reboot, had a supporting role in the hit feature film, WONDER opposite Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts and starred in the award-winning independent feature, the DEVOUT. In 2014, the Hollywood Reporter named her on the “Next Generation 15 Hottest Canadian Talents under 35 list.”


Making his film debut as Mykola, is eight-year-old Daniel Mazepa of Edmonton. Mazepa is in Gr. 3 at St. Matthew Elementary School and is active in Ukrainian arts programs. He is fluent in English and Ukrainian and has been dancing and singing since a young age. This is his first professional acting job.


Los Angeles-based writer and director, Troy Ruptash, who was born and raised in Vegreville, will play the lead role of Roman.


They Who Surround Us Cast and Crew


Director/Writer: Troy Ruptash

Producer: Rosanne Milliken

Production Company: Gynormous Pictures

Co-producers: Scott Bailey, Sandy Wilde

Executive Producers: Grant Wilde, Jason Kropp, Nathan Kropp, Tim Nawrot, Wil Hergot

Cinematographer: Kamal Derkaoui

Roman: Troy Ruptash (Mad Men, CSI, The Young Pope, General Hospital)

Natalia: Ali Liebert (Bomb Girls, BH90210)

Mykola: Daniel Mazepa

Photo Left to Right: Larry Ruptash, Lillian Ruptash, Jamieson Brown, Elizabeth Nawrot, Tim Nawrot, Grant Wilde, Sandy Wilde, Deserrie Ruptash, Troy Ruptash, Mayor Tim MacPhee, Rosanne Milliken, Bill Hergot (representing Wil Hergot).

Mayor MacPhee officially welcomes They Who Surround Us production to Vegreville


The production team of They Who Surround Us received an official welcome from Mayor Tim MacPhee, on behalf of the town council and the citizens of Vegreville, on Friday, Sept 6, 2019.


They Who Surround Us, a full-length feature film was written and directed by Troy Ruptash (formerly of Vegreville), tells a powerful story of intergenerational trauma, where the past haunts a young Alberta farmer who is dealing with incredible grief after the sudden loss of his wife.


From the forests of Ukraine, where the UPA struggles to keep the Ukrainian identity alive to the rich farmland of the Canadian Prairies, Ruptash is delighted to have his hometown featured in telling this story. 


“I started working on this project last summer with my mom and dad, Lillian and Larry Ruptash, and my two sisters, Deserrie Ruptash and Lara Ruptash Fess. This journey has brought me closer to them, my extended family and to the community of Vegreville,” said Ruptash. 


MacPhee notes that the film itself has generated much excitement within the community.


“They Who Surround Us has been talked about in our community for over a year, and we are thrilled to see this project come to fruition,” said MacPhee. “We are excited to see the portrayal of the struggles and successes of the Ukrainian settlers that help shape and build our community.” 


Ruptash, who will also act in the movie, has assembled an incredible team, many with connections to Vegreville. Award-winning producer, Rosanne Milliken (nee Yakimchuk), executive producers Grant WildeTim Nawrot and Wil Hergot, have all signed on to the production.


MacPhee said, “It is only fitting that this story is told by one of our own, and we cannot be prouder of Troy and Rosanne for all their accomplishments. Congratulations to Troy and company and we cannot wait for the premiere.” 


The production team also includes accomplished cinematographer Kamal Derkaoui, executive producers, Jason Kropp and Nathan Kropp of Sherwood Park, and co-producers Sandy Wilde of Calgary, and Scott Bailey of Vancouver and associate producer, Janice Krissa-Moore of Edmonton.


Approximately 40 crew and cast members are expected to be in Vegreville over the course of filming, beginning in mid-September, utilizing local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and amenities. It is anticipated that the movie will be ready for film festivals and distribution in 2020.

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