Screen on Screen
Easily one of the oddest entries in this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival and also one of the best, Chuck Norris Vs. Communism sheds light on a strange moment in Romanian history. During the height of Communist government control in Argentina in the 80s, Hollywood films were essentially banned from the country. However, there was no way to keep any audience from enjoying Rocky IV during that era, so an industry of bootlegged VHS tapes exploded throughout the country. They were all worn down copies of copies with dialogue dubbed by a single woman who worked for the government censor board during the day and they became a phenomenon. Families huddled around VCRs (which cost roughly the same as a car in the country at the time) and enjoyed everything from Scarface to Pretty Woman as an act of defiance. Secret police held VHS stings constantly, while also secretly holding their own viewing parties. Everyone loved these bootleg tapes (especially if they starred Chuck Norris) and eventually the secret Hollywood imagery helped plant the seeds of revolution.
So yeah, a strange story to say the least and an undeniably fascinating one. It’s hard to imagine a time when watching the latest Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle could be a revolutionary act, but that’s what happened and director Ilinca Calugareanu managed to compile a hearty collection of interview subjects at all levels of the VHS revolution to fondly recall those times.
Filled with ironically included clips from the original tapes as well as lovingly shot recreations of the events, the film goes out of it’s way to avoid stale talking head doc filmmaking. While some might consider that secondary a material a distraction, an extra dose of cinematic style feels appropriate for a movie about the power of filmmaking.
Even at 81 minutes Calugareanu occasionally feels like she’s straining to stretch the concept into a feature, but never so much that the movie wears out it’s welcome. The story is simply too unique and intriguing for anyone with a sweet tooth for trash 80s culture for that to be a factor.
Saturday, April 25 @ 9:30pm, Hart House Theatre
Monday, April 27 @ 4:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Thursday, April 30 @ 4:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1