Historically speaking, documentarist Laura Bialis' nonfiction effort Refusenik marks one of the first cinematic attempts to chronicle the decades-long liberation of Soviet Jews, from the early years of the 20th century through the end of the Cold War. Drawing from archival footage and extended interviews, Bialis documents the process by which a regionally oriented, grassroots social-activist movement ultimately ballooned into as massive, transcontinental human-rights crusade. By shining a light on the activists who risked their safety (and, in some cases, their lives) -- many enduring hellish years in Gulag labor camps -- Bialis' film explores the concepts of martyrdom and self-sacrifice, even as the director carefully defines a broader socio-historical progression. … More
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Critic Reviews for Refusenik
One credits their naivete as the best tool to change history, as, because of it, they refused to cave in to excuse-making politicians and initial indifference in the Jewish-American community.
A conventional but generally well-made documentary about Jewish refuseniks
Neat and nice is good for textbook supplements, but aren't gonna cut it cinematically when the story itself is the only thing going.
There are fascinating archival clips that show rare glimpses of early years of struggle behind the Iron Curtain, while the story eventually moves through such momentous footage as the Helsinki Accords and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The result is a documentary that plays like a fat, satisfying work of nonfiction literature -- the final word because it seems to contain every word.
Packed with an extraordinary amount of archival material, the film offers a fascinating, if occasionally dense look at a grass-roots movement that became the world's chance to retroactively fight Hitler's Holocaust.
[Director] Bialis chronicles all this with perhaps too much thoroughness. But, given the nature of the subject, you get the sense that she doesn't want to leave out any voice, no matter if they add little in the way of new information.
[An] absorbing portrait of the refusenik movement of the 1960s and '70s.
Refusenik's opening on Israel's 60th birthday could not have been more timely.
Refusenik falls short as entertainment because of the plodding, overly studious approach of the director, Laura Bialis.
Refusenik does not so much capture the moment as it does educate, however, with material so compelling and inspiring, a thorough education serves.
Using title cards, interviews, and endless archival footage, Bialis is able to tie a very specific history to the course of 20th century upheaval.
Refusenik is a little dry in its presentation, relying on a conventional mix of talking heads and stock footage. But Bialis has good footage to work with, including some film shot by the BBC in Moscow using equipment smuggled in by tourists.
Visually and intellectually brisk, the movie is as lively as its subjects' gumption is humbling.
One can only hope that future films about today's most pressing humanitarian crises have such unambiguously happy endings.
The story of the nearly thirty years of courage in the face of repression in the Soviet Union. This is polished and evocative filmmaking.
We've been hearing a lot this year about human-rights abuses and the potential impact of organized protests and diplomacy on uncooperative countries. Rarely is the subject addressed as effectively as it is in Laura Bialis' absorbing new documentary.
[Director] Bialis may have been too diligent in tracking down sources.
What is revealing here is the heretofore unseen civil-rights movement, small but dedicated, that began in the 1960s behind the Iron Curtain.
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