The original Secret Cinema.
Screening this month at Edinburgh Film Festival, this documentary from Ilinca Calugareanu uncovers a secret film phenomenon in 1980s Romania – a country under the cosh of communism.
In a world where borders are closed, television is absurdly censored, and a VCR costs the same as a new car, one enterprising individual turned his home into a makeshift cinema to host underground ‘video nights’ for the local community. Screening banned and uncensored movies from a VHS player smuggled in from Germany, people from the surrounding tower blocks would stay up until 5am to watch four or five contemporary classics a night on grainy videos – from Top Gun and Terminator, to Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman.
Fast forward two years, and the operation had grown into a mass cultural and business phenomenon, with various lieutenants trafficking illegal tapes in from Hungary to be copied on a bank of 360 VCRs before being dealt on shady street corners. All this played out under the shadow of the secret police – ‘The men in black.’
This intriguing and inspiring documentary boasts a cast of funny and fascinating characters recounting tales of political strife, cinematic heroism, and unbridled wonder. ‘I didn’t imagine a film like that could exist,’ says one woman, ‘I felt like I was struck by lightning.’
Chuck Norris Vs Communism’s greatest success is in demonstrating the true power of film, as these videos became a beacon of hope, freedom, and escapism for an oppressed people to warm themselves by – a window into brave new worlds.
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