Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I went to see a special screening of Refusnik last night, with many former refusniks and American activist for Soviet Jews in attendance, the director, Laura Bialis was also there answering questions at the end of the film.
As a film, Refusniks is not breaking any new ground, in fact at times it felt choppy and crammed in with too many interviews and repeated archival footage. In fact Bialis admitted that she had a rough cut of about eight hours long and she mentioned she conducted close to 2,000 interviews. So it's understandable that she would want to put as much information as she could. I largely agree with Ty Burr's assessment of the movie,
The talking-head parade would dry the film right out if not for the startling, even amusing human drama that keeps poking through the historical fabric.
The human drama certainly does peek threw especially from the interviews of the Soviet dissedents, maybe I'm biased but I found their stories more compelling than the American counter parts (without who's efforts the refusniks would not have been released). Some of the stories struck a personal chord like refusing Jewish students entries into good Universities even if they were the top students in their class (like winning the gold medal that guaranteed you entrance into any University without being rejected from the University). My father was denied attendance to a University of choice even though he received a silver medal or my grandfather being fired because he was Jewish.

The most admirable aspect of the film is how it makes you aware of the people who paved the way for the massive immigration of a million Jews from the former Soviet Union, because of people like the ones featured in the film my family and I were able to leave the Soviet Union. Many Russian Jews who are in this country don't realize the debt they owe these people and take it for granted coming to Israel or America.

It also shows how important State of Israel was to Soviet Jews. It was a beacon of hope and place they could look to as their true homeland. There's a beautiful moment in the film when one of the refusniks describes waking up in Jerusalem for the first time and realizing that the nine years in exile and hard labor camp was worth the moment of seeing sun over the Old City. The movie also emphasizes what Jews can accomplish when they band together. There's an old joke that says something along the lines of: two Jews, three opinions. During the Q & A someone asked why Bialis why the film didn't mention that there was fractures in the Jewish advocacy in America, supposedly things were not all honkey dorie and sweet as it appears in the documentary. Bialis implied that it was a sub-plot at some point, but that it ended up on the cutting floor and also she wanted to convey the message of how the ultimate unity of American Jews brought on this monumental action.
In short I would recommend seeing it, the stories and images stick in your head. I was left feeling grateful that I live in America. Bialis also said that many people and stories did not make it into the film and that a project is in the works to archive and compile this information. Maybe a mini-series documentary. Definitely would be a great resource to have.

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