The Russian Woodpecker, Putin’s secret
by Camillo De Marco
- The debut documentary of American-Portuguese theatrical director Chad Gracia, was produced by London-based production company Roast Beef and won the World Cinema Grand Jury Grand Prize at Sundance.
The deserved winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, The Russian Woodpecker was screened in the international competition of this year’s Biografilm Film Festival of Bologna, where it once again hit the mark, picking up the Life Tales Award for most captivating biographical story.
Directed by American-Portuguese theatrical director Chad Gracia, the film is the devastating story of the young and eccentric Ukrainian artist Fedor Aleksandrovic, who was just four years old when the Chernobyl disaster struck. The event left a deep scar and Fedor, in his quest to learn more about what happened at the nuclear power plant, happens upon the Duga-3, a giant antenna built in Soviet times near Chernobyl, which emitted a regular low-pitched tapping sound and was known as ‘the Russian woodpecker”.
Fedor discovers that the Duga-3 was one of the USSR’s secret weapons during the Cold War, built to tap into Western communication systems and, perhaps, the mind. The young artist involves his American friend Chad Gracia, whom he met at the theatre in Kiev, in this discovery, along with cinematographer Artem Ryzhykov. The conclusions arrived at in the documentary lay bare the cruelty inflicted on the Ukraine by its Russian neighbours and is part of the context of the Ukrainian revolution of February 2014 and the current conflict between the two countries, the consequences of which are known the world over.
The film was produced by British producer Mike Lerner, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2012 for Hell and Back Again. His production company, Roast Beef Productions, is based in London and New York, and specialises in documentaries and film and TV series for the BBC, Channel 4, BFI, HBO, PBS and Discovery. Its productions include The Square [+see also:
film profile] by Jehane Noujaim, on the revolution in Egypt, Tierra Caliente by Laura Plancarte, on drug trafficking in Mexico, and The Million Pound Base by Richard Parry, on British military operations in Afghanistan. Lerner has also made a name for himself as a director, and with Roast Beef he recently made Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer [+see also:
film profile], co-directed by Maxim Pozdorovkin, which also won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award at Sundance. "Without Mike Lerner I would never have been able to make the film”, Chad Gracia explained to Cineuropa. "He’s an extraordinary person, I trust him. I’m not a film director, and Mike took care of the technical cast, putting together a team of professionals, as well as the entire post-production stage".
(Translated from Italian)