The World Cinema Documentary Competition heads to Romania next with UK/Romanian/German co-production CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM, Ilinca Calugareanu’s look at the secret role the VCR played in the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Sundance Program Description:
In the 1980s, under the Nicolae Ceaușescu regime, Romanians suffered from little access to foreign goods as well as an information blackout the Communist bureaucrats used to ensure ideological purity. But in clandestine screenings at neighbors’ homes of smuggled VHS tapes dubbed by a one-man distribution network, people got a glimpse of the Western world and a culture of muscular individuality with heroes like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, and, of course, Chuck Norris.
In CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM, one sees the power of film to change individuals and whole societies. Through the stories of the hardworking female dubber (the most famous voice of Romania), the memories of everyday citizens, evocative re-creations of the time, and an enormous selection of clips from ’80s movies, first-time director Ilinca Calugareanu presents a film about the unexpected consequences of mass entertainment, leading to the conclusion that the greatest threat to Ceaușescu’s dictatorship might just have been the VCR.
This project marks the feature documentary debut for both the film’s director, visual anthropologist and film editor Ilinca Calugareanu, and its producer, Mara Adina, who are based in the UK. Executive producers include John Battsek, whose Sundance credits this year also include LISTEN TO ME MARLON and DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON, and an alum, most recently with last year’s CAPTIVATED: THE TRIALS OF PAMELA SMART, THE GREEN PRINCE, HAPPY VALLEY, and WE ARE THE GIANT; Brett Ratner, whose previous Sundance credits include CATFISH (2010) and the short I KNEW IT WAS YOU (2009); Impact Partners’ Dan Cogan and Jenny Raskin, whose other 2015 titles include SEMBENE!, THE HUNTING GROUND, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, DREAMCATCHER, and CENSORED VOICES, as well as last year’s WATCHERS OF THE SKY and WEB JUNKIE; Battsek’s Passion Pictures’ colleague Nicole Stott, co-executive producer of CAPTIVATED and THE GREEN PRINCE, and co-producer of LISTEN TO ME MARLON and SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012); and Rattner’s RatPac Entertainment partner, James Packer.
Why You Should Watch:
Approaching the story from the perspectives of the producers of the bootleg VHS tapes – the near-mythical Mr Zamfir and, of course, the (dubbed) voice of freedom, Irina Margareta Nistor – as well as the ordinary Romanians who used these illicit artifacts to escape their harsh reality, Calugareanu’s secret history is a fascinating exploration of the unexpected power of seemingly innocuous – albeit clandestine – activities under a repressive regime.
For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page and still in-progress website. Calugareanu has already produced an Op-Doc about the story for The New York Times. Check out her Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
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