Stalin loses at the Academy Awards … again.

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Women of the Gulag was a last-chance attempt to record he memories of the women who had faced arrest, torture, incarceration, hard labor, and abuse during the Soviet years – an untold story kept by the octogenarian and nonagenarian survivors, some who died during the making of the film. So I was  pleased it was shortlisted for the Academy Awards “documentary shorts” category. I wrote about it here and here and here. And film clip above.)

Filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya was the first Russian woman to be shortlisted or nominated for an Oscar since the founding of the Russian Federation, and the second Russian female director to be shortlisted for an Academy Award in any category in 91 years.

Groundbreaker

According to Paul Gregory, the Hoover Russianist who was author of the book and producer of the film: “Requests for interviews flooded in from Russia’s scrappy liberal press, and from Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Echo of Moscow, Moscow Times, and Kyiv Post. John Batchelor hosted Marianna and me on his syndicated radio show (watch it here). John was enthused but skeptical that Hollywood would give its highest award to a film about Stalin’s genocides. Marianna informed the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture and received back a formal statement that the film is not a ‘national film’ of the Russian Federation. There was a sudden awakening of interest on the part of film distributors.”

Then the bad news last week:  it didn’t make the nominations, despite golden predictions. So Stalin loses at the Academy – again. “We can agree to disagree, but it is true that filmmakers have largely ignored the mass executions, Gulag camps, and repressions for ‘political’ crimes that took place in the Stalin years. International awards for Stalin themes have been rare,” Gregory wrote in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution journal.

“As Jan. 22 approached, we were buoyed by some good news. All seven major prognosticators (including Variety, The Wrap, Indiewire, LA Times, and Hollywood Reporter’s Feinberg Forecasts) predicted we would make the final five. These were the professionals, we thought. Surely, they know what they are doing. Bookies placed our odds of winning the whole shebang at 6/1.”

Looking forward

But Stalin has not been as interesting as Hitler, the focus of many acclaimed and awarded films – despite Stalin’s record that makes him one of the greatest genocidaires of modern times. “Societies that do not come to terms with such genocides suffer, each in their own way,” said Gregory. And so it has been with post-Soviet Russia, lost to memory and drawn to Putin like a moth to the flame.

But 2019 was a surprising year for the Oscars: the most expensive campaign in its history. The small, independently funded was kneecapped against professional publicity campaigns.

The indefatigable Paul Gregory is still optimistic and looking forward: “There is still the Emmys, if we can find a suitable TV venue. We have a premiere in London on  April 23 at the Barbican Centre.  Universities and museums are requesting showings and panel discussions. Most interesting is going to be the reaction of Russian media. Will they allow a showing on a major network? We’ll wait and see.”

Read Paul Gregory’s article here.


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