Nistor was the voice of the Romanian revolution. The brawn was supplied by
Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, and the rest of their 1980s action movie
colleagues. Together they were an unbeatable combination—just ask Ceauşescu.
Oh, but you can’t. Wildly popular but strictly forbidden, American action
movies (thousands of which were dubbed by Nistor) directly undermined the
Communist regime, as Ilinca Calugareanu chronicles in Chuck Norris vs. Communism, a World Cinema Documentary Competition
selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
when you thought films like Missing in
Action couldn’t get any cooler, Calugareanu’s documentary comes around. Ceauşescu
kept Romania even more isolated than the rest of the Warsaw Pact nations and
his censors were relentlessly thorough—to an almost comical extent. As a
result, Nistor was pretty disgusted with her work translating for the
censorship authorities, so she jumped at the chance to dub illegal American VHS
tapes, often mastered from second or third generation copies, regardless of the
boss was the mysterious Theodor Zamfir, who identified an unmet demand and
spread around enough bribes to keep the tapes flowing. Of course, there were
still dangers, especially for Nistor working in the lair of the beast. Fortunately,
many high ranking Party members were also hooked on Zamfir’s tapes, because
what else would they watch?
films go, Chuck just about has it
all. It is an inspiring story of courage and defiance in the face of oppression
that takes some truly ironic twists and turns. It celebrates free expression,
while also serving up a healthy dose of pop culture nostalgia. It is strange to
think Romanians were watching kick butt Cannon films on VHS at the same time we
were, but they were risking imprisonment and who knows what else by doing so.
do hear from the real life Nistor and Zamfir, but the film is also interspersed
with interviews featuring former customers, who really sound a lot like us or
our friends at Unseen Films. In a potentially risky move, Calugaranu utilizes
extensive dramatic recreations that make it a bit confusing when the actual
historical figures finally appear on screen. However, they convey a vivid sense
of the era and the paranoia that went with it.
Nistor and her associates were true heroes who
made the world a better place, both in the short term and the long term. While
the film is wildly inspiring, it also makes you wonder if the films produced in
this day and age would have the same efficacy undercutting repressive regimes.
Regardless, the fascinating and wholly entertaining Chuck Norris vs. Communism is very highly recommended when it
screens again tomorrow (1/27) in Salt Lake and Thursday (1/29) and Friday
(1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Documentary, Romanian Cinema, Sundance '15