Aired Tuesday June 28th, 2011 at 11:00 pm on KUED HD Ch. 7.1
A rare account of the collapse of the Soviet Union as experienced by five members of the last generation of Soviet children, My Perestroika has its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 11:00 p.m. on KUED as part of the 24th season of POV (Point of View).
Woven from nearly 200 hours of footage of former Russian schoolmates filmed from 2005 to 2008, hundreds of reels of home movies from the 1970s and 1980s and dozens of Soviet propaganda films of the era, My Perestroika is a nuanced account of a tumultuous time -- the last years of the Soviet system -- as experienced by a generation coming of age just as its country broke apart. The film is also an affecting portrait of the paths five young people took when their world turned upside down.
Lyuba and Boris Meyerson, Olga Durikova, Andrei Yevgrafov and Ruslan Stupin, now in their early forties, grew up in the Brezhnev era, known as the "Period of Stagnation." Growing up in typical Soviet fashion, the five progressed through the hierarchy of youth organizations, but for some of them, the innocence of childhood gave way to the skepticism of adolescence. By age 14 they had all joined the Komsomol, the Communist youth group that was the final stage before joining the Communist Party.
By the time Mikhail Gorbachev launched his programs of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (restructuring) in 1986, in an effort to liberalize Soviet society, the five were young adults. "We came back to a totally different country," says Ruslan of his return from the army, seeing that punks with Mohawks were no longer arrested and he could play his music freely. When Communist hardliners deposed Gorbachev in 1991 and tried to re-impose Soviet dictatorship, Borya and Lyuba rallied along with thousands to support Boris Yeltsin's call to save democracy. But in the troubled Yeltsin years and under the increasingly autocratic regime of Vladimir Putin, Russia has not had the future the group imagined.
Olga, a single mother, lives in the apartment she grew up in with her sister and their adult children. She's surprised to learn that the family ranks just above the official poverty line. Andrei has been successful in the new Russia. He just opened his 17th store selling French men's clothing. Living with his wife and children in a luxury condo, he is the only one of the group who moved out of his childhood home. But he, too, is frustrated by the country's regressive turn, and is impatient with the fact that Russia has not yet become a Western, European-style society.
For Ruslan, life has taken more than one surprising turn. In the 1990s, he rose to fame as a member of the wildly popular punk rock group NAIV. But as the music world became dependent on consumer culture, he quit the group in disgust at what he felt was its commercialization. "How can you play music just for the money?" he asks. These days, he gives banjo lessons and plays in the Moscow metro to make a living.
"At age 10, I convinced my parents to let me subscribe to Soviet Life magazine so I could learn more," explains filmmaker Robin Hessman. "I began reading Russian history and literature later as well, and I was fascinated by this complicated and culturally rich country. In my senior year of high school, the Berlin Wall fell. Meanwhile, in the USSR everything was changing so rapidly under Gorbachev that I wanted to go right away and experience it for myself. So at age 18, in my freshman year of college, I went off to Leningrad. That was January 1991. I wound up living in Russia for almost the entire 1990s.
"When I returned to the U.S. in late 1999, I began thinking about how to tell the story of my generation of Russians," Hessman continues. "They are a key transition generation -- from Soviet childhoods to adolescence during Perestroika to becoming adults in the newly democratic Russia. They straddle such different worlds. My hope is that the film brings the audience into the homes, the kitchens and the memories of these five people to share the complexities of their experiences, their triumphs, their dreams and their disillusionment."
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