June 2011 Update
POV: What have the characters from My Perestroika been up to since filming?
Robin Hessman: Borya and Lyuba are continuing to teach history at School 57. They are looking forward to summer vacation.
Lyuba is about to go off with her class (and Mark too) to the Kola Peninsula in Northwest Russia.
Borya will be going with his advanced history class on an archeological dig for 3 weeks in Khersones in Ukraine where he goes every year. Next year he may be organizing a class trip to the Czech Republic, Austria and Bavaria, if they can gather the funds for it.
Mark will be starting his final year of School 57 in the fall. He plans to apply to the university to study biochemistry.
Ruslan is in a new punk-bluegrass band called Boozeman Acoustic Jam. You can see one of their YouTube videos here.
Andrei now has 17 Café Coton stores across Russia. He’s continuing to work hard to open more.
Olga still works at the billiard table place. She recently went on a trip to Paris.
April 29, 2011 Update
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: What are you working on now?
Robin Hessman: I have a new documentary film that I look forward to tackling, but My Perestroika is still a full-time job. For the coming year, I’ll be working on getting the movie out internationally, editing the DVD extras, and traveling to schools to talk about the film and my experiences in Russia. It’s been thrilling to see professors use My Perestroika to teach about the end of the Cold War and post-Soviet Russia. After more than five years spent making the film, it’s really gratifying to have far-ranging and in-depth discussions with students about everything from Russian culture and politics to documentary filmmaking techniques.