The Museum of



The Screening Room
A Film by Yale Strom


In 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.

Accompanying him 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?”

The endless 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 world, history.
The film is distributed by Cinema Guild and is available on DVD, video and BETA. 212-685-6242.
*Official Selection – 2002 Berlin Film Festival*


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