Refusenik | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Documentary about struggle to free Soviet Jews

Laura Bialis' film is a straightforward documentary that details a two-decade-long struggle to secure Soviet Jews the right to emigrate. Told via first-person interviews (with some archival news footage), Bialis establishes the persistent prejudices Jews faced in the Soviet Union, along with the stealthy, secretive measures they took to practice their faith. Hebrew texts were important, but so too were smuggled copies of Leon Uris' best-selling novel Exodus. By the 1970s, Soviet Jews who filed to emigrate (and were denied) became "refuseniks," cast into a wobbly existence, pursued by KGB and often imprisoned. Accounts from former refuseniks recall the grim totalitarian USSR that, perhaps inadvertently, help mold these immovable dissenters. Meanwhile, students in the United States established protest organizations, as well as providing limited support. Ultimately, larger global events helped free Soviet Jews, but tales of Midwestern housewives smuggling tapes out of Moscow during the darkest days of the Cold War are fascinating footnotes to an often fruitless struggle. Bialis' film is repetitive -- you sense the director wants everybody to get their story in -- but this is film designed more to inform than entertain. In English, and Russian and Hebrew, with subtitles. Starts Fri., June 20. Manor (AH)

Flamingo Fest at the National Aviary
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Flamingo Fest at the National Aviary

By Mars Johnson