In communist Romania, thousands of Western films on bootleg VHS tapes — mostly Hollywood action movies — were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain, opening a window into the free world. MORE
Under President Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania was culturally isolated and ideologically censored. Images of life outside its borders were cut off and TV was reduced to propaganda bulletins. From the drab concrete housing blocks to the food ration lines, the threat of surveillance prevented people from stepping out of line.
But in the mid-1980s, under the nose of the Securitate, Ceaușescu’s secret police, thousands of Hollywood films were smuggled into the country by an underground operative named Zamfir, and they were all covertly dubbed by Irina Nistor, a courageous translator whose distinct voice captivated the nation and became a symbol of freedom.
As we see through evocative re-creations in Chuck Norris vs Communism, a network of secret screening rooms sprung up across Romania as families, friends, and neighbors gathered to watch action heroes like Norris, Van Damme, and Stallone, along with romantic comedies, dramas, and Hollywood epics. While the stories captured the imagination, it was the lavish settings and backdrops that mesmerized the audience. The films offered Romanians glimpses of the abundant West, which prompted the regime to clamp down on the clandestine screenings, casting an atmosphere of ever-present danger and suspicion.
Ilinca Calugareanu’s film brings us to a time and place when films that were made for entertainment also helped spark the coming revolution.
Ilinca Calugareanu, a London-based Romanian filmmaker, studied documentary filmmaking at Manchester’s Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. Her short films have been screened in festivals around the world. Calugareanu’s credits include The Writing on the Wall (2006, Romania) and Endgames (2008, UK). She has also worked as an editor on fiction and documentary shorts and features for the past five years. She has a background in anthropology with a focus on communist and post-communist Romania, which gives her a unique perspective on the story of the VHS phenomenon.
Mara Adina (producer) started her career as a production manager and then line producer at Kuwait National Television (KTV), and also produced with several Middle Eastern production companies during her stay there. On her return to the UK, she established Vernon Films, an independent production company based in London. In 2014 she released Counterpart, the first English-language film directed by two-time BAFTA-winning director and Golden Bear nominee Adrian Sitaru. LESS