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Friday, July 04, 2008



This entry was originally written last Sunday. But as you know, I ended up being buried by the production of my new short film, FLEETING IMAGES. (screenshots), so I'm posting this up now instead.

I first heard about the TOKYO REFUGEE FILM FESTIVAL because of Refusenik (also check out the official production blog). It all happened 2-3 weeks ago when I was seeking, via Facebook, other filmmakers who reside in Tokyo, and I found Megumi Nishikura. After corresponding briefly on Facebook, she told me about the screening of Refusenik, a documentary she was involved in as assistant editor during her stay in Los Angeles.

According to Wikipedia, Refusenik is an unofficial term for individuals, typically but not exclusively Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate abroad by the authorities of the former Soviet Union and other countries of the Eastern bloc. The term refusenik derived from the "refusal", handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities.

This documentary by Laura Bialis is educational to me because it covers a part of history I've never noticed much before. Of course, normally to me, 'educational' is associated with 'boring', but not in Refusenik's case because the events chronicled in the documentary are very gripping. It is about the 30-year grassroot movement to free the Soviet Jews, and seen through the eyes of the activists like Natan Sharansky. Many of them who got some pretty harsh punishment then.

And I just realized through this interview with the director that some of the archival footage used in the documentary were smuggled out from the Soviet Union. In fact, based on the interview, the actual production of the film sounds just as interesting as the documentary itself. I've heard from Megumi later at the Q & A session that development for it began as early as 2003, but I won't be surprised if it had started even earlier.

They ended up with 200 hours worth of footage to cut. Mindboggling. Sometimes I can't help but admire the patience of documentary filmmakers. (I myself already puked blood editing my own short film, FLEETING IMAGES, from a mere 5 hours worth of footage)

While the subject matter is quite a downer, it is actually, surprisingly, the most uplifting film I've seen at the REFUGEE FILM FEST (the Burma themed SHADOWS OF THE PAGODAS and PRAYER AND PEACE were depressing, JUN-AI was a tearjerker, you can read my brief thoughts on these three films. While STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE isn't really a cheery affair either). Since it really reinforces how the actions of a few small people can snowball into something so massive that it can shake the very foundations of a once-invincible regime. Too bad it would also become the last film I saw at the festival.

Refusenik trailer