As the Iron Curtain disintegrates, adults who grew up as patriotic children in a communist façade become cynics, chagrined by the duping of themselves and a nation.
Robin Hessman, an Academy award-winning filmmaker, interviews five adults who came of age during this monumental shift in Russian affairs. Amazingly, their story is documented not only through generic state newsreels, but through home movies of their childhood.
Borya and Lyuba Meyerson, married, are both history teachers and two of Hessman’s subjects. Borya’s father, a home movie buff, had been so enthused about documenting his family’s life that he had even gone to school with Borya to document his school experience. So it is that Hessman picked her five adults from Meyerson’s life. Even his wife, who grew up across the street, is in the films as a little girl.
The Meyersons explain that Communist Soviet Union, with a state-controlled press, deceived its citizens on many levels. Even though there were shortages of cars, limitations on living space and restrictions on access to information, Lyuba remarks, “I was completely satisfied with my beautiful Soviet reality. I guess I had such a good life back then that for a long time life in the west didn’t interest me at all. And when the TV showed shootings and protests over there, I would see that and think, ‘Oh, my God! I am SO lucky I live in the Soviet Union!’”
Now, the west is almost idealized by some of these Russians. At one point, Borya remarks that he’d rather be voting for the US president than his own choices.
An early newsreel shows children mailing letters to President Reagan asking for peace, prepping mock MASH units on their playgrounds for a US nuclear attack and supporting countries who were against the presumed diabolical US.
Lyuba explained that “the struggle for peace meant the struggle against American Imperialism. They were the main provocateurs of war. Without them, there would be world peace. Even a hedgehog understood that.”
The Meyersons, as history teachers, reflect that the “hardest thing to explain to kids is Russian History. Because all normal functioning minds, and especially the minds of kids, are simply incapable of comprehending it. You can’t even explain it as a fairy tale of evil and kind kings – it was far beyond any concept of good and evil. What we had was indescribable.”
Addressing their students they ask, “So how did the Soviets force the peasants to voluntarily join the collective farms? Just try to make all of you pool together everything you own. Can you imagine that? We’re taking over all your apartments, and turning them into one giant dormitory. Everything was taken from them; their land, their cattle, their homes – and then they were deported. The fatalities from this deportation were colossal. Because it meant that all these people, deprived of all their property, were carted out to barren fields, together with their wives and children. It took them days to get there without any food … in Kazakhstan , Central Asia and Siberia.”
“My Perestroika” — meaning “My Restructuring” — documents the socio-political change in Russia through the window of these five school chums who were born in the ’70s. While individualism was not accepted as they were growing up, by the late ’80s the dime had turned and punk bands, avant guarde artists and anti-Soviet protests were no longer condemned. One of the five friends, Ruslan, even ends up a radical street musician, earning only survival change under the table – no credit card, no taxes and no mandatory career.
In 1985, Gorbachev became the general secretary of the Communist Party and by 1986 he introduced Glasnost, the political transparency of Soviet institutions and a free press. By 1987-88, he introduced a series of reforms including multiple candidates running for the same office and privatization of business.
By 1991, all of the Soviet Republics, except Russia, had seceded from the Soviet Union .
Hessman films the last generation, born in the ’70s, to grow up under the Soviet communist system. Her access to archival footage, personal home movies, schools and personal interviews makes this a tremendously intimate encounter.
“My Perestroika” is about the total restructuring, both institutional and psychological, that the Soviets have undergone. It is the story of their personal reaction to the downfall of the Soviet Communist Party and the parting of the curtain to a free press. It is a fascinatingly personal odyssey that humanizes a generation we were taught to fear — perhaps due in part from a little propaganda from the west.
“My Perestroika” opens in LA at Sunset 5 on April 15.
Web site: http://myperestroika.com/
Directed and Filmed by : ROBIN HESSMAN
Produced by : ROBIN HESSMAN, RACHEL WEXLER
Edited by: ALLA KOVGAN, GARRET SAVAGE
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