Filmmaker Robin Hessman comes to Sundance with her directorial debut, MY PERESTROIKA, a look at what happens when to ordinary citizens when their communist country changes, over the course of a few years, into something resembling capitalism. Full disclosure: this was a film that I was particularly interested in seeing in this year's lineup because - in her side job - Hessman is the curator and extraordinary host of AmFest Moscow. Having experienced Russia first-hand through Hessman's eyes and hearing about her then-deep-in-the-edit-room film, I was excited to see what she would bring to the screen after her many years in Moscow.
Keying up an interview with Hessman for the Voice Film blog, LA Weekly Film Editor Karina Longworth sets the stage:
"In 1991, college freshman Robin Hessman traveled to what was then called Leningrad, to spend a semester abroad in a country that had fascinated her since childhood. She ended up living in Russia for the bulk of the 90s, eventually produced the country's version of Sesame Street. Her Sundance competition documentary My Perestroika chronicles not her own experience as an expat during the barely-post Cold War era, but the experience of five thirtysomething Russians who attended Soviet school together, and are now living very different lives in a post-Communist world for which they had no preparation.
The great hallmark of Hessman's film is its intimacy; her subjects, ranging from husband and wife school teachers to a punk-turned-subway busker to an international businessman, casually tell their own stories over vodka and home movies, with no top-down narration or intervention."
On indieWIRE's criticWIRE, Longworth gives the film an A-.
Meanwhile, Noel Murray of the A.V. Club grades it a B+:
"MY PERESTROIKA is fairly foursquare as documentary filmmaking goes; it’s neither snazzy stylistically nor doggedly verité. It’s closest kin in the genre is Michael Apted’s “Up” films, which are similarly focused on how people change over time. The difference is that My Perestroika is also about how a country changes, and what parents—including a husband-and-wife team of history teachers—tell their children about what life used to be like, even as the powers-that-be are back to pressuring them to stay positive. Hessman has an interesting story on her hands, with an unexpected theme that she outlines in the movie’s press notes: “In Russia, it’s the past that’s unpredictable.”"