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October 30, 2012

Filmmaker previews documentary Women of the Gulag at the Hoover Institution

Russian American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya on location in Russia
Russian American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya on location in Russia.

Hoover fellow Paul Gregory and Russian American filmmaker Marianna Yarovskaya spoke on “Filming Women of the Gulag” to a large audience at the Hoover Institution on Thursday, October 25. That evening, they made a similar presentation to the Russian Terra Nova Club of San Jose.

Based on Gregory’s forthcoming Hoover Press book of the same title, Yarovskaya described filming the last survivors of Stalin’s Gulag in remote locations in Russia. Based on a remark often attributed to Stalin, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic,” Gregory’s book is the story of five such tragedies. They are stories about women because, in many cases, it was the wives and daughters who survived to tell the tales, which answer the question “Why film a bunch of old babushkas?” that was posed to Yarovskay in the discussion that followed the film’s screening.

The five women in the Yarovskaya-Gregory film, which is in the editing stage, put an indelible face on the personal tragedies of Stalin’s victims, with their dignity and courage and their losing fight for justice after their release. The subjects are in their 80s and 90s. Several remarked, thankfully, that they have lived long enough to tell their stories to Yarovskaya.

According to the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize–winner Anne Applebaum, who appears in the film, “Aside from its historic value, a project like this one has special significance in the light of contemporary Russian politics. In recent years, under President Putin, Soviet and Russian history has been repoliticized, and the Stalin period has come to be viewed with ambiguity by politicians, writers, filmmakers, and regrettably the public. The stories of the victims of the Gulag, told by simple people who had little or no understanding of why this was happening to them, make an excellent antidote to creeping historical amnesia. This project is also urgent, of course, because most of their subjects are in their advanced years, and their stories have to be recorded now.”

Yarovskaya showed pictures and filming locations of the women covered in the Yarovskaya-Gregory documentary, followed by a fifteen-minute trailer, which can be viewed at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shamans/women-of-the-gulag-editing

For a discussion of the film project and her personal reaction, see Cynthia Haven, The Book Haven: Terror’s human face: Women of the Gulag—the book and the movie.