Posts Tagged ‘Paul Gregory’

International honors for “Women of the Gulag” – and an exclusive podcast from the Stanford screening!

Monday, June 24th, 2019
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It premiered in Hollywood and New York – but on June 11, Women of the Gulag, a documentary film based on Paul Gregory‘s book of the same name, came home to Stanford. It got a big audience at Hoover’s Hauck Auditorium, in the new David & Joan Traitel Building, with a splendid reception afterwards. (We’ve written about the film here and here and here and here.)

The film, directed by Marianna Yarovskaya of MayFilms and produced by Yarovskaya and Gregory, was also shortlisted in the best documentary category in the 2019 Academy Awards competition. It has been named the Best Non-European Independent Documentary in the 2019 European Independent Documentary Film Festival held in Paris. It was also shown at Moscow’s Film Festival. It couldn’t be more timely, as Russia sinks into denial, historical lies, and Stalin-fandom.

A very exclusive screening with George Schultz

The film tells the compelling stories of six remarkable women – among the last survivors of the Gulag, the brutal system of repression that devastated the Soviet population during the Stalin years. Most stories of the gulag have told of men’s experience. Women of the Gulag is the first account of women in the camps and special settlements.

Women of the Gulag, filmed entirely on location in Russia, turned out to be the last chance to tell the story of women in camps and special settlements. Several of the women featured in the film have died since their interviews.

You can listen to the podcast of the Q&A session from the June 11 screening below – it’s a Book Haven exclusive. Eric Wakin, director of Hoover Library & Aerchives, introduces filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya and author Paul Gregory, who have a short discussion and answer audience questions.

There’s more to come: The film has been cleared for screening on Russian Channel 2 Russiya – with an okay from the highest government levels. The film will also get Russian screenings at Дом Русского Зарубежья (Solzhenitsyn’s house) and Gulag Museum, as well as Tver and other smaller cities. Other European universities have signed on for a screenings, and so has South Korea.

But the most exclusive showing to date is the one that took place the following morning for 98-year-old former State Secretary George Schultz, who had a private screening at the Hoover Tower. He called Women of the Gulag “an outstanding work,” and praised the strength of character of the women it profiled.

Photos by Igor Runov

Stalin loses at the Academy Awards … again.

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019
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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.

Oscar endorsement for Women of the Gulag: “To go through such suffering without going mad is a spiritual feat.”

Monday, January 14th, 2019
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She made a movie on the “slaves of the slaves.”

Russian American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya sent me a short note after she read the earlier Book Haven post on her new film Women of the Gulag, based on the research and book by Paul Gregory. The film is now up for an Oscar next month in the “short documentary” category. 

Her email included an endorsement from Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet dissident who spent a dozen years in the psychiatric hospitals, prisons and labor camps of the USSR. In December 1976 he was deported from the USSR and exchanged at Zürich airport by the Soviet government for the imprisoned general secretary of the Communist Party of Chile, Luis Corvalán. Bukovsky now lives in the UK.

So he knows what he’s talking about. Here’s what he had to say about Women of the Gulag – consider it an endorsement from the depths of hell:

The film Women of the Gulag is an important document of the era.

The U.S.S.R. was a huge zone of human suffering.

Inside that zone there was also a hell that contained its powerless slaves—the GULAG.

But within that hell, there was an even more terrible hell.

Varlam Shalamov, the great writer who lived through the GULAG hell, said the women in the camps were slaves of the slaves.

Gulag survivor Shalamov, author of “Kolyma Stories”

Their experience was so horrific that eyewitnesses were afraid to describe it in detail.

I could not understand how you can make a film about “what a person should not know, should not see, and if he has, he is better off dead,” as Shalamov wrote.

Marianna Yarovskaya has managed to do it. Her heroines, who survived the GULAG, say almost nothing about their suffering. But I could hear their desperate screams during their silences.

To go through such suffering without going mad is a spiritual feat.

To make such a film is a moral feat.

I would compare the appearance of Women of the Gulag with the appearance of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

The Gulag Archipelago was awarded the Nobel Prize. [Editor’s note: Solzhenitsyn was awarded, rather than his masterpiece.]

I am glad that there is the opportunity to award an Oscar to Women of the Gulag.

Freedom at last: Bukovsky at the 1987 Sakharov Conference, the Netherlands: (l. to r.) Prime Minister Lubbers, Vladimir Bukovsky, Prof. Jan Willem Bezemer, Stanford historian Robert Conquest (Photo: Creative Commons)

Will Women of the Gulag get an Oscar next month? Please vote yes. Putin won’t like it.

Saturday, January 12th, 2019
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Marianna Yarovskaya filming on location in Russia

Everyone nowadays is terrified of Russia, talking about Russia, condemning Russia – but comparatively few make any attempt to find out what Russia is really about, culturally, socially, politically. Relatively few make an effort to know its history, other than the comic-book version. Author Paul Gregory, an economist and Russia expert, has gone some way towards alleviating our myopia with Women of the Gulag, teaming up with Russian-American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya. We’ve written about the Women of the Gulag here and here and here. (We’ve written about Paul’s book on Nikolai Bukharin here, and his curious and complicated tale of Lenin‘s brain here.) Although he’s one of the movers-and-shakers at the Hoover Institution, he’s had to use public fundraising platforms to get the film made.

Marianna Yarovskaya

Now Women of the Gulag is up for an Academy Award, and we couldn’t be more pleased. Women of the Gulag is a story that’s still untold, even in Russia. 

According to Paul, the film “drives home the point that Russia has yet to come to terms with the Gulag and the Great Terror. Consider the striking images of a Stalin look-alike selling photos on Red Square and older men and women sobbing at Stalin’s burial place. There has never been a big event, like Nuremberg or the Truth Commission in South Africa, that wipes the slate clean.  The Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot deny that the Gulag happened, but he needs the Russian people to want a leader with a firm hand. The strategy of admitting Stalin’s ‘harshness’ while emphasizing his presumed contributions has paid off. The Russian people name Stalin as the most significant figure in history!”

The Academy Awards are notoriously whimsical in their choices, but if there’s any justice, I hope Women of the Gulag takes home the statuette in the “short documentary” category. (The Academy finalists are listed in Variety here.) He’s competing against shorts like My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes, which was featured in The New York Times here .

Women of the Gulag was first screened last September in Santa Monica. The John Batchelor radio show featured an episode on the film, and in 2013, Gregory talked about his research, which drew a lot from the phenomenal Hoover Library & Archives, on CSPAN BOOKTV.

Paul says in a Hoover interview here:

My first surprise was that I could gather enough information from the above sources to breathe life into the five remarkable women whose lives I was chronicling. I was also surprised (although I had encountered this in the statistics) by the fine line between executioner and condemned. The two women in my book who married executioners lost their husbands to execution and one was forced into suicide

My second surprise (and this led to the documentary film with Marianna Yarovskaya) was that three of my characters were still alive in their upper 80s and lower 90s. They readily agreed to be filmed. The others were long gone and had no adult children to tell their story first-hand. Therefore, Marianna and I used networking and the good services of Memorial Moscow to identify three additional Women of the Gulag, who told their remarkable stories on camera. We called our subjects “last witnesses” while making our documentary. Indeed, two of the main characters died shortly after their interviews.

My third surprise was that no one had written this book or made this documentary before us. Hollywood has been remarkably absent in the coverage of Stalinist crimes against humanity. Perhaps Women of the Gulag will be a turning point.

Let’s hope so.

You think I’m imagining the international ignorance? Paul writes on his blog earlier this week about a Gulag denier: “A writer viewed the film and concluded that the five female Gulag survivors, telling their story on camera were lying. Such things that they describe – the arbitrary sentences, the beatings, and arrest of innocent fathers and husbands – were made-up fantastic stories. … Surely viewers will not be taken in by such nonsense. Besides, director Yarovskaya is incompetent – a dupe of faux human-rights organizations, like Memorial. In the same edition, another Gulag-denier writes that the much-authenticated order 00447 that initiated the Great Terror is a fabrication of Russian human-rights organizations. So far, Russian mainstream media is waiting and watching, asking should Yarovskaya’s Women of the Gulag be treated as an accomplishment of Russian film makers or an attempt to sully the greatness of Russian history?”

According to Paul, “Stalin is purported to have said that one death is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. We believe that by giving the Gulag and the Great Terror human faces and human stories, we will cause viewers everywhere to think of the tragedy and not the statistic.”

Postscript on 1/14: Women of the Gulag gets a resounding endorsement from one of the former Soviet Union’s foremost dissidents, Vladimir Bukovsky. Read it here

Women of the Gulag: help finish the film. Putin won’t like it.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
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Marianna Yarovskaya on location

Paul Gregory, author of Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), is passing the hat. It’s for a good cause.

Filmmaker Marianna

He and Muscovite documentary filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya are in the final stages of filming his 2013 book, Women of the Gulag. (Marcel Krüger has an interview with Yarovskaya here.) They’re nearly a quarter of the way to the $25,000 they need to complete final editing, sound mix, and music. Want to help? Go to Indiegogo here.

From the introduction to Women of the Gulag:

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.

putin

Nyet.

“Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” Marianna is asked.  According to Washington Post‘s Pulitzer-prizewinning Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film,  “What had happened since the year 2000 is that history has been gradually re-politicized. And the Russians started treating history that way. And that means that they’ve become more sensitive again about discussing this sort of crimes of their past. For the Russians, understanding the history of the gulag is absolutely crucial.”

She tells us that Russia still lacks “that defining moment, that big monument” that will help the Russian people come to terms with their past.

“I wish to express my support for Dr. Paul Gregory’s and Marianna Yarovskaya’s documentary project, Women of the Gulag. Although there have been a number of excellent Gulag documentaries, this film is intended to tell the personal stories of just a few former prisoners in greater detail. It will also focus on the stories of women, which differed in a number of ways from that of their male counterparts. Rape, pregnancy and motherhood were a part of the Gulag experience, too.”

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 Indiegogo here. Putin won’t thank you. That’s one reason to do it.

Former Baltic president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga: “Ukraine is being dismembered and torn apart.”

Thursday, October 16th, 2014
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At Stanford, Latvian president recalled the long, hard road to independence. (Photo: Jim Hatlo, EyeDoMedia)

Former Latvian president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga was in town last week – and, just as I anticipated before my live-tweet session below, she was smart and bold and knew how to throw a punch. She has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s recent incursions into its former Soviet vassal-states and criticized what she called “wobbly” Western resolve to support Eastern Europe. Stanford historian Norman Naimark, who introduced her, said she had provided “the moral straight-shooting that Latvia needed.” Stanford got a taste of it, too.

The woman who shepherded Latvia into NATO and the EU during her term as president (from 1999 to 2004) spoke about recent Baltic history in her keynote address, “Against All Odds: The Path of the Baltic States to the EU and NATO,” for the “War, Revolution and Freedom: The Baltic Countries in the 20th Century” conference sponsored by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives and Stanford University.

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Kind of a straight-shooter himself

During the question-and-answer session, Hoover scholar Paul Gregory asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: what did she predict for Ukraine?

“Ukraine is being dismembered and torn apart – it’s the Russian resolve to get Ukraine in its grips again,” she said. Their diplomatic weapon of choice? “A whole bouquet of arguments.” She took the petals off, one by one. For example, she challenged the Russian claim that “there’s no such thing as a Ukrainian people, it’s just another kind of Russian.” A related argument is that Russia had “brought a life of civilization and culture” to its western neighbor. Yet, she said, Kiev had been the center of the Rus civilization way back when St. Petersburg was still marshlands.

Finally, the Russians contend that the Ukrainians “don’t know how to govern themselves.” Without endorsing the Russian argument, she conceded that Ukraine had not made the “painful reforms” that the Baltic states were required to make for entry into NATO and EU.  She noted the vast amounts of money that had flowed through Ukraine to a few kleptocrats, which had  “polluted and subverted the political system.” However, “that is not an excuse for neighbors saying we’ll do a better job of it.” She compared the situation to a hypothetical one in which Mexico reasoned that, with so many compatriots in the U.S., it had a right to invade, using a  standoff between the president and Congress as proof of U.S. incompetence to manage itself and a reasonable pretext to bring in  tanks. “How would you feel about it?” she asked.

Latvia

Democracy as “an acquired trait.” (Photo: Jim Hatlo, EyeDoMedia)

She remembered Latvia’s history after World War I, when Latvia became a democratic parliamentary republic, and said that “hardly ever was there a nation with less going for it to become an independent nation.” However, democracy “is not an inherited trait, but an acquired trait,” for “anybody who wants to make a go of it.” In 1940, however, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, then invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany the following year, and the reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944. It found freedom at last with the fall of the USSR in 1991.

When she took office, the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration was not as bright as it might have looked, she said. While some EU/NATO countries thought integration might be a good idea, “very few countries were deeply convinced.” In the end, their consent was a “political decision that had to be taken at political level,” she said. “It was the political leaders who would have the last words …it was very plain and simple as that.”

“There was lots of negative PR about our countries,” she recalled. The Balts were accused of turning their backs on Russia, which was precisely what they had intended to do. “We would be reproached for being Nazis because we did not want to stay within the embrace of Moscow.” She recalled nasty, and untrue, accusations about Latvian collaboration during the Holocaust.

chirac

Afraid of bears

The EU worried that the Balts would drain the finances of the organization. They had voiced the same concerns, she said, when considering Poland’s entry, saying “the Polish plumber would be distinct danger to countries in Western Europe.” Now, however, “Poland has one of the highest growth rates in Europe – higher than those countries who sneered at it,” she said. She joked that “any number of Frenchmen ask me, ‘Where are those Polish plumbers? We need them.'”

A major hesitation for political leaders considering Baltic entry into NATO was “the bright idea that, in order not to offend or displease Russia, the enlargement of NATO and EU should proceed cautiously.” French president Jacques Chirac warned, “You must not pull the whiskers of the bear, it’s a very dangerous thing to do.” She battled a prevailing attitude that “whatever we do, must not offend Russia. Such sensitive souls, such delicate violets! Easily humiliated!”

“Their economy is a shambles, their social security systems are in disarray, but the point is we must not upset them,” she said, with a note of exasperation as well as amusement.

As for my first frenetic foray into live-tweeting, you can see the results below – with an occasional assist from my colleague, Lisa Trei.

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