fact that assassinated independent journalist Anna Politkovskaya supported the
work of the Russian research and archival non-profit Memorial pretty much tells
you all you need to know about its mission and place in the Putin-era body politic.
Dedicated to exposing Stalin’s crimes against humanity and preserving the oral
history of his victims, Memorial endures constant harassment and demagoguery. The
dictator’s pervasive legacy and the drive to whitewash its enormity are
examined in Thomas Johnson’s In the Wake of
screens as part of the 2014 UN Association Film Festival in the Stanford area.
forced agricultural collectivization, willful acceptance of the resulting famines,
a notorious series of purges and show trials, and periodic anti-Semitic
campaigns, Stalin physically and spiritually devastated the Soviet people. Yet
today, more and more Russians use loaded terms like “strong leader” and “iron
willed” to describe Stalin.
part, matters reached such a frightening and depressing state because there has
never been a national reckoning of the Communist Party’s crimes. There is a
government appointee officially charged with investigating Soviet human rights
violations, but his lack of initiative is rather appalling, even by the
standards of Soviet era bureaucrats. Memory stepped in to fill that void, but
the reaction from Putin’s enforcers and loyalists has not been pretty.
the title suggests more of a survey of Stalinist horrors, Johnson’s film,
co-written with Marie Brunet-Debaines evolves into a documentary tribute to
Memory, but they clearly deserve the ovation. The testimony they capture from
Memory interview subjects is truly harrowing, while the thuggish graffiti and
threats they document are simply ugly.
Wake consistently draws a clear
distinction between Stalin and Putin, readily conceding they are not moral equivalents
(thus far). However, the dictum regarding those who forget the past deafeningly
echoes throughout the film. Clearly, there are those who wish to render the
past forgotten—and they presumably have their reasons.
is a level-headed analysis of Russia’s current ideological climate, enriched
by its wider historical context. It is not alarmist, but it is alarming. Thoroughly
researched and substantiated, it is a valuable work of cinematic reportage.
Highly recommended, In the Wake of Stalin
screens this Sunday (10/16) at Stanford University as part of session 10 of
the 2014 UNAFF.
Labels: Documentary, Stalin, UNAFF '14