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Virginia Film Festival Sees ‘Red’

Exploration of Cold War-era hockey team sparks empathy, discussion

Gabriel Polsky’s documentary, “Red Army,” stunned on the final day of the 2014 Virginia Film Festival with its discourse on the politicization of the Soviet hockey team during the Cold War.

The team’s story is told by former players who grew up training with the team, known as the Red Army Club and Polsky’s filming style includes not only their spoken words, but also silent moments of self-reflection that follow each person’s narrative. Initially, the team’s totalitarian, state-subsidized management is not portrayed as inherently negative. Players like Vyacheslav “Slava” Fetisov and Anatoli Karpov cite their involvement with the team as developmental to their lives and careers, and as a source of freedom, allowing them to travel internationally when few could.

These authentic perspectives portrayed in such a raw, emotional way could be beneficial to American viewers in giving them a greater understanding of civilian life in the Soviet Union, an idea that director Polsky said was one of his hopes for the film.

“It’s about understanding a man’s heart…[you] can’t really communicate with the other side unless you understand them,” Polsky said in a panel discussion following the showing.

The film does not, however, provide a positive portrayal of the Soviet government as they manipulate the team, oppressively restricting them as the Cold War continues, hoping to use the team’s success as a symbol of global Soviet domination. Polsky’s message – in part, a criticism of the American generalization of Russians as “faceless, robotic things” - rings clear, as he demonizes only the Soviet government and very humanly depicts those subject to its policies.

An overall honest, globally aware film, “Red Army” will inevitably open new discussion on the Cold War, albeit possibly with a strong generational bias in favor of those born after 1990. Another less empathetic, more inherently Americanized film could never have garnered an equal degree of respect and subtle drama Polsky’s has achieved.

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