The Russian Woodpecker
Directed by Chad Gracia
As his country is gripped by revolution and war, a Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life and play his part in the revolution by revealing it.
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★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
"If The Russian Woodpecker doesn’t turn out to be one of the most talked about documentaries of 2015, it will be a shame. Fortunately, the fact that it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival will likely help spread the word about this courageous and well-meaning work of nonfiction. The focus of the film is a man by the name of Fedor Alexandrovich who uncovers a terrifying theory regarding the potential true cause of Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster. However, this is less a film about conspiracies, and more a film about how the notion of “conspiracies” can affect a person’s relationship with their friends, their family, their country and even themselves. Throughout the duration of its concise run time, The Russian Woodpecker shifts from being a detailed history lesson to a political mystery to a character study of a man, his paranoia and his national pride. Crisp cinematography and sharp editing aside, this film is essential viewing for anyone interested in international politics or, as Alexandrovich himself would describe it, the ever-present ghost of the Soviet Union."
★★★★★ review by Zach Skov on Letterboxd
I loved everything about this documentary, I'm so glad that I decided to see it at the fest on a whim. I think this, once it's out streaming, will have the same praise and comments that Oppenheimer received for The Act of Killing.
It's an amazing debut for Chad Gracia, I'm really excited to see what he has in store of the future. I'm not going to give away too much, but I'm hoping it has something to do with the end of this. And boy was Fedor Alexandrovich an interesting character.
The cinematography and shots they were able to get at Chernobyl and the Duga were amazing. There's a particular shot/scene involving gas masks that I thought looked amazing.
After the screening both Chad and Fedor came out, with a standing ovation, to a Q&A session. I really enjoyed this, they provided some great background and insight into some aspects of the film and some updates on where they are now. They also provided an interesting story about Fedor not knowing a certain scene was in the film until he saw it at a festival and his reaction to seeing it.
I highly recommend seeing this and I'm hoping that more people are able to see this in the coming months.
★★★½ review by Andrew Ford on Letterboxd
Ends a bit too far afield of anything resembling a reasonable conspiracy theory, but it nothing else I find I'm incredibly taken with all the visuals surrounding the Duga (which I did not know existed until today). So, you know, points for that.
This is fascinating, and at 81 minutes I'm okay that the Fedor/the filmmakers' attempts to tie the whole "Chernobyl melting down to cover up for the failure of the Duga " conspiracy stuff into modern-day tensions between Russia and the Ukraine never quite coheres. The gas masks worn by the modern-day protesters are a strong visual echo of the empty rooms full of gas masks shown earlier in the film at Chernobyl, but nothing more.
I'd argue this has marginally more investigative merit than something like Loose Change (which I've seen mentioned in several reviews), but not by as much as one would hope.
★★★½ review by Chris Hormann on Letterboxd
The Chernobyl disaster by way of the recent conflict in the Ukraine - a history lesson mixed with conspiracy theory fronted by Elijah Wood's scruffy lookalike, Fedor. A compelling case is put out there from the not necessarily reliable Fedor but it's very clear that plenty is rotten in the state of Russia. Thought-provoking and just a little scary....tap, tap, tap, tap, tap....
★★★★ review by Eddie White on Letterboxd
While many documentaries surrounding conspiracy theories through history are often merely fanciful alternatives to less dramatic realities and events, the story presented by eccentric Ukrainian artist and activist Fedor Alexandrovich, in this documentary feels as believable and powerful as any theory could be. So much of the activities of those in power during the the Soviet Union, have been whisked away like dust brushed under the iron curtain forever and with some closer inspection, things during this time rarely are what they appeared to be. In the eerie shadow of the recent events in Ukraine including the downing of the Malaysian Airlines plane (still shrouded in sinister secrets), the theory presented in this film that powerfully weaves the events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 with the turmoil in current day Ukraine, is one that is impossible to ignore as it presents at times covert interviews and compelling information makes it very possible to believe that something surrounding that dark day in history was hidden from the public.
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