Emigre to U.S. documents extraordinary Russian lives

Fri Jun 25, 2010 1:16pm EDT
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By Daniel Bases

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Soviet Russia's missiles and soldiers snaking through Red Square made chilling images, but one Russian-American filmmaker is casting a new light on this time to show there was life beneath the ice.

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

"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.

And then nearing the time when most people retire, he plunged head first into the world of documentary films.   Continued...