Coming to VOD today, Thursday, September 1: CITY 40
Samira Goetschel’s clandestine profile of a secret Soviet-era city debuted at Hot Docs earlier this year. Other fest engagements have included Sheffield and Antenna. It now becomes available worldwide via Netflix.
Before 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ozersk didn’t exist – or at least it was never permitted to appear on maps. It wasn’t even known as Ozersk during the Soviet era, but instead as “City 40,” a fittingly bureaucratic and vaguely mysterious name that underscored its secretive purpose: housing the families of scientists, engineers, and workers who worked on the USSR’s classified nuclear program. Convinced they were doing their patriotic duty as Mother Russia’s “nuclear shield,” the residents traded their freedom – generally cutting off outside contact – for a seemingly idyllic existence of relative plenty and harmony. Where other Soviet cities reckoned with food shortages or lack of resources at times, City 40 kept its population well-fed, cared for, and entertained. However, as those who provide testimony in this portrait attest, the true cost of their residency also included cancer, rare medical conditions, premature death, and living within an irradiated and polluted environment. Goetschel, who was aided by locals in smuggling in film equipment, speaks to ordinary citizens as well as a local journalist, nuclear scientists, and a human rights attorney advocating for justice for those maltreated by the Russian state, providing a compelling inside look at a fascinating, once-invisible “closed city.”