Chuck Norris Communism


People need stories. When we think about the essentials of life, we think about water, food, shelter, clothing…but we never think about anything over the basics. It seems shortsighted to believe that one could survive on what’s required and never have a need to have the imagination stimulated.

As a novel I’m reading right now puts it “Survival is insufficient”

CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM is set in communist Romania in the 1980’s, under the Ceaușescu regime. During this time, VCR’s were taking hold in living rooms around the world, and Romania was no different. What was different was that in Romania most Hollywood films were banned in all forms (no theatrical showings, no tapes). So very quietly, bootleg copies of these western movies began to pop up, and people filled apartments to capacity to watch dubbed versions of ALIEN, RAMBO, THE TERMINATOR, and of course the works of Chuck Norris.

Our story takes great delight in showing just how much these glimmers of the western world affected the people of communist Romania. Nowadays, such entertainment is thought of as distraction, or escapist. To these people though, these tapes and televisions were time machines, space shuttles, and fuel for their imagination.

There’s a joy to this documentary that fittingly echoes the joy these people took in gathering to watch film. What’s amusing is that while we live in an age of high-definition and 7.1 surround sound, these people were watching horribly duplicated video cassettes, whose tracking would roll time and again. Some of the audio was downright unintelligible, but to them it was all part of the experience.

Speaking of that audio, the unquestioned star of the documentary is the spectre of Irina Nistor. It was Irina’s voice that dubbed all of the audio into Romanian – male and female parts alike. The people interviewed for this film remember her warmly, and regard her involvement with their filmgoing as more than an amusing footnote. They revel in the mystery surrounding her – how nobody ever saw her, how it was that she did almost all of the dubbing.

Looking at how one woman’s voice played a part in so many people’s lives, one can’t help but think of Irina a 1980’s Romanin Siri.

As we watch the cloak-and-dagger that went into making these movies, and the sort of nefarious activities that went into getting them into the hands of the people, we as North Americans are astonished. These are the sorts of habits of drug dealers, or gun runners…they aren’t what you expect to be involved in getting copies of ROCKY IV in the hands of movie fans. But as we see these moments re-enacted we sit slack-jawed and shake our heads.

Heck, my grandmother used to tell me to finish my food because there were children in Africa starving. I can only imagine what she’d think of my channel flipping if she knew what Romanians went through to watch a movie!


CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM plays at Hot Docs 2015 once more at The Lightbox on Thursday April 30th – 4pm (official website)