Refusenik (2008)



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Movie Info

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.
Documentary , Special Interest
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Critic Reviews for Refusenik

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (12)

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | November 17, 2011
Time Out
Top Critic

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | November 16, 2011
Time Out
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Top Critic

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | June 19, 2008
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | May 30, 2008
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Refusenik


The film "Refusenik' directed by Laura Bialis is landmark documentary on the history of the struggle to liberate Soviet Jews from the shackles of bondage they had known for so long in the USSR. Having been victimized by a brutal Communist totalitarian regime for several decades, a group of Soviet Jewish dissidents, also known as prisoners of conscience, courageously and publicly challenged the draconian dictates of the Politburo. The forecefully spoke out, seeking and finding allies in the West and risking life and limb for the right to emigrate to Israel. The film includes rare footage of the early days of the Soviet Jewish struggle, smuggled out of the USSR and given in to the hnads of Jewish activists in the United States. The film also focuses on and lauds the efforts of such liberation movements as the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and a whole host of local councils established for the sole purpose of bringing attention to the plight of Soviet Jews. The film shows the various demonstrations held for Soviet Jews, as well as concerts, petition drives and the courting of sympathetic politicians. What this film does not show or even mention for even a second is the truth behind who was actually responsible for the freedom of Soviet Jews. However well intentioned, this film is a patently gross distortion of the authentic history of the Soviet Jewry movement in the United States. The glaring omissions of the truth is downright appalling and smacks of political expediency. Conveniently, there is no mention of the role of Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League. Students of history know that it was the JDL and their anti-establishment activities on behalf of Soviet Jews that put this issue on page one of the newspapers, where it belonged. In a place where people saw it and began to care about it and more importantly began to take concerete action on it. It was he who was one of the first to champion the cause of Soviet Jewry and through his leadership the young members of the Jewish Defense League staged loud and raucous demonstrations at the Soviet Mission in New York and Washington. They were the ones who vandalized Soviet property, threatened the safety of Soviet diplomats and engaged in the kinds of activities that these "nice Jews" who sponsored this film would rather not remember or think about. It was Rabbi Kahane of blessed memory who taught the world that it is the militant that serves as the gadfly to the moderate, forcing him to do things he never would have dreamt of. And if Soviet Jewry had become an establishment issue it was strictly and exclusively because of the brave and fiercely courageous actions of the Jewish Defense League. It was Rabbi Kahane who taught that the Soviets would not be moved or persuaded to release Soviet Jews until and if their precious detente with US were seriously threatened. For it was the Soviets who desperately needed lucrative trade agreements with the US. Shame on the people behind the film "Refusenik" for refusing to give an accurate and complete depiction of history.

Fern Sidman
Fern Sidman

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