Wednesday, 1 July 2015

chuck norris vs communism

chuck norris vs communism is a documentary about the popularity of bootlegged hollywood movies being redubbed and distributed in 1980s communist romania. the film is made up of interviews with people who watched the films as well as those getting them out to the people and is held together with reconstructions and clips from the films themselves. if you ever find yourself struggling to argue the cultural and political importance of a chuck norris film, this documentary gives you all the ammunition you need.

the story the film covers is a fascinating one and i don’t want to divulge all the surprises here, but essentially the hollywood movies of the 1980s, particularly those in the action genre, became an unlikely source of hope for the people of an incredibly repressed society. under the rule of nicolae ceausescu, romanian media was subjected to extreme censorship when it came to anything that even remotely suggested life in the capitalist west had its advantages. this essentially meant that practically all media from the west was banned and even media from surrounding countries was heavily sanitised. ceausescu backed this up with a large and incredibly brutal secret police force.

the rebellion against ceausescu's regime came in an unlikely form. a bootlegger named teodor zamfir began to illegally obtain videotaped copies of hollywood movies, then had them redubbed with the help of a government translator, irina nistor, and finally distributed them among the people. this was a nation consumed by poverty so these videos weren’t finding their way into every home. instead one member of a community would fork out the money for a video player and then hold video nights where large numbers of their neighbours would gather around a tv set to watch films like missing in action or lone wolf mcquade.

i’ve seen missing in action and lone wolf mcquade, and to be honest was never that struck by either of them. however, hearing the people in this documentary describe the pivotal scenes from these films and the experience of seeing them for the first time, they take on a whole new importance. these were films about repressed individuals fighting to take back their rights and that was a situation the people of romania could easily relate to.

those responsible for distributing these films also emerge as heroes in this story, particularly nistor. the translator put much more than her career on the line by being involved in the scheme and recounts several experiences of close calls with the secret police. she was also one of the first to understand how important these films were to her audience.

overall, this is a really insightful documentary about a period in recent history not often discussed. the reconstructions occasionally feel like padding and there is a feeling that occasionally the same points and ideas are being repeated, but this is countered by the passion of the subjects when talking about the films. ultimately, this is a film about the power of film, and that’s something that transcends genre.

chuck norris vs communism recently had its european premiere at edinburgh international film festival and will be released in uk cinemas in september

1 comment:

  1. I'm curious to check this out now. I'm just imagining Chuck Norris starring in "The Lives of Others" now:)