I met Paul Gregory a couple years back, when his Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010) was just out. I wrote about it, with a video of Paul, here) … well, “writing” might be too strong a word. His noontime presentation at Stanford was so tight and so compelling that I pretty much presented what he said, as he said it. I didn’t have to do much more. (I’ve written about his Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives here). Since meeting him, he’s become a high-powered economics blogger at Forbes.
The Bukharin book was such a great story, I kept seeing it as a film. Instead, he’s saved the film for his newest book, Women of the Gulag. He’s teamed with Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya. Paul told me some time ago about his newest effort: I was against several deadlines and didn’t have the extra brain cells to process it then, but given his previous book, I had little doubt that he would knock it out of the ball park.
He has. From his introduction:
A remark often attributed to Stalin is, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
This is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, as in so many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell what happened.
These five women put a human face on the terror of Stalin’s purges and the Gulag in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. They show how the impersonal orders emanating from the Kremlin office of “the Master” brought tragedy to their lives. They cover the gamut of victims. Two are wives and daughters in ordinary families unable to comprehend why such misfortune has overtaken them. A third is a young bride living in the household of a high party official. The last two are wives of the Master’s executioners. These stories are based on their memoirs—some written by themselves, others by close friends or by their children.
Here’s the deal. The book will be out early next year with Hoover Institution Press. But the movie is in limbo until you pitch in over at kickstarter here. The filmmaker is trying to raise $30,000 to finish the film, and she has 57 more days to raise the money on the kickstarter deal, which ends December 23. Think of it as a Christmas present to Russia … or better yet, to mankind, because this history is important to record.
“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked. According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film, “Aside from its historic value, a project like this one has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history have been re-politicized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, film makers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia. This project is also urgent, of course, because most of their subjects are in their advanced years, and their stories have to be recorded now.”
Filmmaker Marianna explains why she’s passing the hat: “We are now continuing the campaign and the project and are in post-production. We are also interviewing more women in other parts of Russia. We already have almost 40 hours of footage. These funds will go towards recording more testimonies on HD video and towards editing the footage we have gathered. Clearly the timing is urgent as the survivors and the heroines of the original Stalin gulag are getting very old. This is “the last chance.” (Marcel Krüger has an interview with her here.)
The film below gives a preview of their work. I hope you find it as riveting as I do – and please do pony up whatever you can over at Kickstarter here. Time is of the essence. As always.