The Russian Woodpecker
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The Russian Woodpecker is a thrilling, award-winning investigation into whether the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown was an inside job. Director Chad Gracia follows the unforgettably eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich, who reveals to the world an enormous secret Soviet weapon that stands in the shadow of Chernobyl, which Kremlinologists in the 1980s thought might be a giant mind-control device. But what Fedor discovers is much more sinister. Secret police start appearing and one of the crew members is shot by a sniper, as revolution, paranoia and terror engulf the crew. This Sundance Grand Jury winner and darling of critics worldwide pushes the boundaries of the documentary form while telling a crucial story about the deadly dance between Ukraine and Russia.
Bonus Features: English Subtitles, Closed Captions, 5.1 Surround Sound, Climbing the Duga, Deleted Scenes, Dreams of Fedor, Epilogue, More Duga Secrets, Trailer
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WARNING: Spoilers in this paragraph
This documentary was definitely thought-provoking, though I think Fedor Alexandrovich is reaching quite far and jumping to a conclusion he made long before he had any real information on the subject. In my opinion, this foregone conclusion of his guides his path in digging up information on the subject and heavily biases his decision-making, compromising his ability to be objective. In reality, the Soviets would not sabotage one of their most expensive and highest-energy output nuclear reactors to cover up the wasted expense of the "failed" Duga early-warning network. The Soviets already notoriously controlled information leaks through fear, back in 1986. They could already do pretty much whatever they wanted with the people's resources with impunity. It would not be worth it to lose an entire high-output nuclear power station (and military city) to add extra cover. Additionally, the documentary did not cover the original Duga (both the prototype and the final build) systems in the southern Ukraine, which were never sabotaged at all. So, I don't believe this conspiracy theory. But the approach the director and his camera man have to getting the information that they are looking for is fun to watch. They manage to get old Soviet loyalists to open up and speak openly with them on camera, something that no one else has ever really accomplished on this subject.
There is quite a bit of information available on the Duga early-warning network, today, but this documentary brought up some ideas and concepts that I had never considered. As far reaching as I think those ideas and concepts are, the film was informative and very engaging and it left me thinking a lot about the subject long after its conclusion. I definitely recommend this documentary, especially to military, Cold War and Soviet buffs, as well as radio enthusiasts.
What motive could Comrade Shimsin have to do this, you ask? Why, he was the mastermind behind a great radar warning system known as DUGA - designed to detect a NATO missile launch, and nicknamed "the Woodpecker" by Western intelligence and ham radio operators due the syncopated sound of its transmissions. An imminent official investigation was about to reveal that it was in fact ineffective; that the 7 billion rubles spent on the project had been wasted. This naturally would to lead to unfortunate consequences for Shimsin - purportedly his demotion and execution. To prevent it, he ordered a dangerous test be conducted at Chernobyl that he knew would lead to the reactor meltdown, contaminating the area around the nearby DUGA-3 array (along with half of Europe), making the planned official investigation impossible.
The film attempts to make this sensational case by inter-splicing interviews with many engineers, former Soviet officials, and others involved in building and operating the radar, with footage of Fedor and his friends making avant garde art and engaging in street demonstrations during the Euromaidan uprising. Dramatic footage of them participating in the Kiev riots which led to the ousting of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 book end the narrative, giving it all the proper contemporary political context.
And it's all quite entertaining, to be sure. Many of the elderly characters interviewed are shady, just as you might expect former Soviets would be. Relevant archival materials have apparently gone missing, and a couple of interviewees become very uncomfortable under questioning. All very suspect, quite suspicious.. Unfortunately Shimsin died in 2009 and cannot be interviewed. Fedor hatches a plan to go to Moscow to see - and perhaps piss - on his grave. Fear of the "KGB" (not FSB, note - Fedor believes that the USSR has risen again, and threatens to swallow everyone) keeps him from making the journey..
Just to be clear: I have absolutely no expertise with radar missile detection systems. But during this documentary I kept wondering about the other arrays in the DUGA system - the one contaminated by Chernobyl was the third. That of course means there were two others. One in the Ukraine, another in Siberia. It seems odd that the supposed inefficacy of the system wouldn't have already been clearly proven on the basis of its prior 10 years of operational history (interestingly, they say it began operation on July 4, 1976) or even simply on the continued operation of the remaining two arrays. Nobody in the film explains how making one part of the system inoperable before this supposed imminent invstigation would have prevented exposing Shimsin's incompetence. The innuendo is simply made, and we are meant to accept it.
Okeedokee. I have several Polish friends who are very anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian. One even went to Kiev to help his Ukrainian cossack brothers make fisticuffs with the riot police during the demonstrations. They all overflow with florid conspiracy theories concerning Russia and world affairs. I mean, I engage in a little conspiracy theorizing myself on occasion - Jack Ruby looks like a mob hitman to me, and I don't think his motive was patriotic outrage, after all.. But the idea that a politburo member ordered a nuclear meltdown to save himself from the gulag - and that his minions followed his orders - strikes me as a quite a stretch, just a little - how to put this? - bonkers.
Not to say that it's impossible - Johnson, Castro, Geo. H.W. Bush, the KGB, Rafael Cruz and David Icke's alien lizards might be behind JFK's assassination, too, what do I know? - it's just that I don't buy it. Extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence, all that. This film makes an interesting feint at making its case, one that I found amusing; but if I were on Comrade Shimsin's jury and this were all the evidence presented, I'd definitely vote to acquit.
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The movie was mostly about Ukraine politics.