Emigre to U.S. documents extraordinary Russian lives

Fri Jun 25, 2010 3:46pm EDT
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By Daniel Bases

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soviet Russia's missiles and soldiers snaking through Red Square made for chilling images of a repressed society during the Cold War, but one Russian-American filmmaker is casting a new light on the period to show there was cultural life beneath the communist ice.

Semyon Pinkhasov, an emigre to the United States at the height of the Cold War has made documentary films about prominent Soviet-era artisans and sport figures, who not only survived but thrived during communism's repressive rule.

(Watch the video interview with Pinkhasov: r.reuters.com/vyb34m)

"When the temperatures sink and snow is on the ground there is still life under the ice. It is the same for society under a dictatorship," said Pinkhasov.

Self-taught and self-financed, his films have been shown worldwide at festivals, and on Russian and English-language television channels.

One film about German fencing legend Helene Meyer, whose half-Jewish heritage provided Adolf Hitler with political cover to stage the 1936 Olympics, won for best screenplay at the 2009 International Festival of Sports Films in Moscow.

All of the films expose the tragicomic truths about cultural life under the grey facade of communism and fascism.

After having his medical school hopes crushed by Soviet prejudice, he reinvented himself as a physiotherapist, supported a family, trained champion fencers and marched with the U.S. Olympic team as a coach in 1984.   Continued...

<p>Filmmaker Semyon Pinkhasov poses in front of his computer at his home-based studio in New York June 21, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Bases</p>