‘My Perestroika’ Extends its Theatrical Run (and a Q&A with Robin Hessman from the Road)

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POV Filmmaker Robin Hessman has been traveling around America for the theatrical release of My Perestroika (POV 2011). Crowds have been enormously receptive and the film has been extended at the IFC Center in New York, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston and Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.

My Perestroika is an intimate look at the last generation of Soviet children. Five classmates go from living sheltered childhoods to experiencing the hopes of Gorbachev’s reforms and the confusion of the USSR’s dissolution, to searching for their places in today’s Moscow. With candor and humor, a punk rocker, a single mother, an entrepreneur and two married teachers paint a picture of the challenges, dreams and disappointments of those raised behind the Iron Curtain.

We checked in with Robin via email to hear more about how the film’s theatrical release has been going.

POV: Congratulations on My Perestroika‘s success in the theaters. How have audiences been responding to the film?

Robin Hessman: Thank you! It has been incredibly exciting to have My Perestroika seen in cinemas around the United States. I’ve been doing many Q&As in different cities and the audiences have been really wonderful. The discussions have gone on far after we are kicked out of the theaters and continue in the lobby or in front of the movie theaters.

There usually is a good mix of people who have no special connection to Russia but are very curious about this story and enjoy documentaries, and of people who have a Russian or Eastern-European background. For the latter group, the film is often a very emotional experience that resonates with them deeply. For families who have immigrated to the United States, they find that the film is the best thing they have found to introduce their own children to the world of their childhood and the country from which they came. But members of older and younger generations alike have found that the film resonates with them — either as reflecting their own experiences, their parents’ experiences, or as a glimpse into what their lives might have been like if they had not immigrated.

POV: What are the most commonly asked questions in audience Q&As?

Robin Hessman: Some of the most common questions are how I met the five people in the film, and why I set out to make this film in the first place, since I am not Russian myself. (I lived there from 1991–1999, going to film school and working as the on-site producer of the Russian Sesame St, Ulitsa Sezam so it’s the place where I spent my entire early adult life and that had a significant impact on me.)

People ask if the film has been shown in Russia and what the subjects think of the film, and if I ever encountered any difficulty while filming in Russia. (They like the film, and I never had any problems filming — I was mostly in private homes and work places.) And everyone loves the music and asks if we are putting out a soundtrack. I wish we were! But we’ve posted a list of the songs on our website, under “About the Film.”

POV: Have any questions or reactions been unexpected?

Robin Hessman: Non-Russian audience members are often surprised and fascinated by the many similarities there were between experiences behind the Iron Curtain and in the US during the Cold War. Many people have also remarked how welcome it is that they get to know the people in the film so well.

POV: In the New York Times review of your film, Stephen Holden remarked, “Opening as the Middle East is experiencing the same political convulsions that brought down the Soviet Union, My Perestroika is also astoundingly timely. Change, it seems, is the only constant.” What connections or similarities do you see between the revolution in the USSR and current events in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen? Is there anything that young people in those countries can learn from the Russians you spoke with?

Robin Hessman: Yes — I think that young people in places where revolutions are happening will see that after the euphoria and excitement of a revolution succeeding, there can be a long slow and difficult journey for real change. I stood on Palace Square in Leningrad when I was 18, surrounded by tens of thousands of people in August of 1991. We felt the joy of triumph and were secure in our belief that everything would simply be perfect from now on. Lyuba, Borya and Ruslan in the film talk about being near the White House in Moscow and Lyuba comments on the pure feeling of freedom she experienced. Many people have been disappointed that the changes that followed did not live up to all of our dreams and expectations. There has certainly not been a return of the Soviet Union, but it is also not the country we imagined, as we stood cheering in public squares, hugging strangers. Now begins the hard work, and hopefully the young people in the Middle East will be very involved and work hard to ensure that the new society that evolves is the one that they hope for. I think the film can provide a glimpse into the future of a country 20 years after its own revolution.

POV: Where does the film head next? How can our readers get involved in getting this film into their communities?

Robin Hessman: Right now My Perestroika continues to play in New York at the IFC Center and at Indiescreen in Brooklyn, in Boston at the Coolidge Corner Cinema and at Stuart Street Playhouse, at the Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, and the Town 5 in Encino, California.

It will soon open in San Francisco at the Balboa, in Denver at the Denver Film Society/Colfax, and then is continuing to open in San Diego, many cities in Florida, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Houston, Omaha, Neb., Amherst, Mass., West Newton, Mass., and more. A complete listing is on our website and is constantly being updated.

The best way to bring the film to a movie theater in your community is to contact your local art house theater and ask them to please bring My Perestroika!

More information about the film can be found on the My Perestroika website.

Jamie Dobie
Jamie Dobie
Jamie worked in the Community Engagement and Education Department at POV from 2010 to 2013. Prior to joining POV in 2010, Jamie worked at Northwestern University's satellite campus in Doha, Qatar, where she was part of the team tasked with setting up the school's film and journalism programs in the Middle East. She has worked in various capacities on many documentary film crews around the world, including productions in West Africa, and has worked closely with acclaimed filmmaker Margaret Brown. Jamie has also previously worked in the exhibition department at the Field Museum of Natural History and the education and cinema programming departments at the Block Museum of Art. She holds a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in Radio/TV/Film and African Studies.