A Film by
March of 2000, director Yale Strom flew to Moscow to begin his
trek to the fabled Jewish Autonomous Region of Siberia. Upon
arrival, he discovered that some of his luggage and camera
equipment had been misrouted. The Russian authorities weren’t
overly concerned. Rather, Strom was informed that he had
brought his violin with him “illegally” – and unless he could
provide proper documentation, including photos of his violin,
he would not be permitted to return to America with it. He
offered to shoot off a roll of film on the spot, but he was
told that he had to follow bureaucratic procedure.
Thus, the stage is set for
Strom’s journey to Birobidzhan, capitol of the J.A.R., on
Siberia’s Far Eastern border.
on the seven day train trip via Trans-Siberian Railroad is
interpreter-bodyguard (and former KGB agent) Slava Andreovich.
As Strom travels east, he makes the serendipitous discovery that
Slava is in fact the grandson of Mikhail Kalinin, first
president of the U.S.S.R. and the architect of the J.A.R. Slava
is also a dedicated anti-Semite… although he likes Yale: “If I
hated all Jews, would I be here with you?”
train trip, and the casual anti-Semitism of his Russian fellow
passengers, immerse Strom in the experiences of the first
Jewish pioneers to settle the region in 1928. Strom’s
interviews and encounters are intercut with archival footage
and scenes from the rare Soviet propaganda film about
Birobidzhan, entitled “Seekers of Happiness” (1936). Strom’s
encounters with Russians en route to Birobidzhan, and his
interviews with early Jewish pioneers to the J.A.R. (and young
proponents of the rekindled interest in Yiddish culture) both
in the U.S. and Russia, paint a vivid portrait of the
circumstances surrounding this unique chapter in Soviet, and
The film is distributed by Cinema Guild and is available on
DVD, video and BETA. 212-685-6242.
*Official Selection – 2002 Berlin Film Festival*
Copyright © 2007 Museum of Family History.
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