Winter 2015 Documentary series
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 7:00pm
Directed by Gabe Polsky
Screenplay by Gabe Polsky
Starring Scotty Bowman, Mark Deakins, and Vyacheslav Fetisov
Rated NR ·
USA / Russia
English and Russian
A smash hit at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, director Gabe Polsky’s exhilarating documentary chronicles the rise and fall of Soviet hockey in the 1980s.
During the Cold War, battles between East and West played out in sports as much as international politics, as Stalin and his successors saw their athletes as ambassadors of ideology. Red Army reveals one of the most colourful chapters of this history, focusing on the Soviet hockey team and its rivalries with Canada and the USA.
At the centre of the story is Slava Fetisov, one of the greatest players to experience the highs and lows of Soviet hockey prior to the USSR’s collapse. He stood up to a powerful system and paved the way for Russian players to change their circumstances. As Soviet communism gave way to global capitalism, the lure of NHL money unraveled the legendary team known as the Red Army, which had been famed for a graceful style of play that emphasized co-operation and teamwork. When its players entered the NHL, they had to grapple with a more individualistic style, along with Red Scare–fuelled prejudice.
You do not need to be a hockey fan to get swept up in this story of friendship and divided loyalties. In his feature documentary debut, Polsky draws poignant interviews from key figures of the era, including Fetisov, his teammates, and NHL coach Scotty Bowman.
Highlighting the dramatic stories on and off the ice, the director documents an interchange across the historical East-West divide that shows we still have a lot to learn about each other. Reopening this history makes for one of the most widely appealing documentaries of the year.
“There are times when sport isn’t a metaphor—it’s simply war, a skirmish of ideals… the longest battle of them all: the Soviet Union’s rival-crushing Cold War hockey team, which between 1978 and 1992 won three Olympic golds and eight World Championships. On and off the ice, the Russians triggered such panic that Ronald Reagan pleaded with the American team to win for the sake of global politics. ‘They’re a microcosm of their society,’ Reagan insisted of the Soviet team, and if they triumphed, so did communism. If we won, of course, so did everything decent in the world. Gabe Polsky’s fascinating and funny documentary opens with Reagan’s bellicose speech, and tracks how both countries fought their PR wars on the rink. Red Army is a riveting look behind the Iron Curtain.” (Amy Nicholson, The Village Voice)
“Good sports movies are always about more than sports… Red Army touches on themes of friendship and perseverance, and also offers a compact and vivid summary of recent Russian history.” (A.O. Scott, The New York Times)