Hot Docs 2015: Chuck Norris Vs Communism – Ilinca Calugareanu


Screening today at the Hart House theatre at 9:30pm is this masterful, and highly enjoyable documentary that plays like a Cold War thriller.

The year is 1985. The place, Romania, a country under strict control by its socialist/communist government, there’s one television channel for the nation, and it broadcasts nothing but state propaganda. The people, tired of waiting in lines for items and food to be rationed out to them want more, yearn for more, to see the world beyond their strictly controlled borders.

With a television and an insanely difficult to get, and expensive VCR, people began to see more, as VHS tapes containing the dearth of North American films of the 80s were smuggled into the country, pirated, dubbed in Romanian, and shared in secret. Subversive, even by definition, illegal video parties would be announced and friends and neighbors would gather, turning over a few measly, but hard-earned dollars to sit in a living room and get a glimpse at something more.

The VCR became a symbol, a window to look at the fabled western culture, to marvel at the things that all of us took for granted, while the stories would engage, people would marvel at the styles, the availability of products, and the openness of society. Yet the shadow of the secret police hung over every one of these screenings. To think that watching a Chuck Norris, Stallone or Van Damme film could result in persecution, removal of property, or being reported to the government puts everything in a shocking perspective.

Photography by Kev Williams

At the center of this daring story are three people, Teodor Zamfir, who organized the operation, bringing tapes across the border through payoffs and bribes, setting up banks of tapes and recorders, and then having Irina Nistor, the voice of the nation (and later Mircea Cojocaru joined up) work to dub them before being distributed secretly to the street, where they would be sold to the public. This network kept the public entertained, feeding the fire for more, showing them the world and entertaining them.

While for us, movies can be a disposable pleasure, an occasional escape, for Romania in the 1980s they were so much more than that, they provided an education, a look at fashions and style they had no access to, it was a way to survive.

Calugareanu shows a real talent for cinematic storytelling with this beautifully crafted and paced film, this documentary engages and entertains, balancing intricately recreated sequences with interviews from those who lived through those times, a version of the 1980s few of us would recognize, despite the glimpses of classic films and images.

A masterful look at the way movies can change things, save people, ignite hope, and even lead to revolution…

Chuck Norris Vs. Communism screens twice more during the festival, both at the Lightbox, Monday, April 27th at 4:00, and Thursday, April 30th, also at 4.








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