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Five personal tales from the collapse of communist Russia

I chose ‘My Perestroika' because it was first on the list of review offerings from the Bermuda International Film Festival.

I was in the House of Assembly when the e-mail came through; ‘number 1' was all I had time to type on my BlackBerry.

When I returned to my desk many hours later I was less than impressed that I'd snagged a historical documentary. Hour after hour of dreary voices listing off facts and figures, no thanks! It's Budget season after all we get that Monday, Wednesday, Friday in Parliament already.

But boy was I wrong. ‘My Perestroika' is unlike any other historical documentary I have seen. It weaves the lives of five school friends who came of age during the collapse of the Soviet Union single mother Olga, businessman Andrei, married teachers Borya and Lyuba and punk rocker Ruslan. The five Russians were the last to come of age in communist USSR and the first to create an adult life in new Russia.

The film juxtaposes their current lives with their memories of attending communist youth groups and rebelling against the system and splices it with official communist video footage from archives.

For those who know little about Russia other than they like to drink vodka and that the Iron Wall is no more, the film is a ‘lite' crash course in the last 40 years of the country's history.

It touches on the groups' childhood during the strict communist Brezhnev years of the 1970s through the Gorbachev years. And it covers their views on the collapse of the USSR and transitions to Russia today, a world of wealthy oligarchs and wealth disparity.

The journey is long enough for you to get a sense of the importance of certain events but not long enough to bore people who are not that interested in facts and figures.

On the other hand, for history buffs the film is important too. Whilst you can read about accounts of Russia's transition in many books the film offers a rare glimpse of how a group of contemporaries navigated the evolving changes that Russia went through. It depicts how one returned from a two-year stint in the army to a completely different country and worked his way to the top of capitalism, owning 17 franchises. Another friend has to grapple with how to teach history to a younger generation when the history he learned was different from reality.

The film's strength is that it does not have one narrator and instead each of the five is granted equal time to air their views and memories. It works because the five are diverse and shed light on the complex relationships many Russians who straddled both worlds must feel.

I would recommend the film to anyone who can move past the fiction section of their DVD store, and it is a must see for any students doing history coursework on the period of Russian history for GCSEs or the International Baccalaureate.

The documentary is the first full-length feature by director Robin Hessman. It has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the Sundance Film Festival.

A scene from ‘My Perestroika', which tells the story of five people from the last generation of Soviet children who were brought up behind the Iron Curtain.

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Published March 18, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated March 18, 2011 at 9:47 am)

Five personal tales from the collapse of communist Russia

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