Many of us have fond memories of parents and children gathered around the VCR to watch a rented movie on a Friday night. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, however, Romanian families could only get their VHS tapes on the black market, making American action icon Chuck Norris a symbol of freedom and rebellion not only on-screen but in real life. These illicit movie-marathons are at the heart of Olinica Calugareanu’s “Chuck Norris vs. Communism.”
What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?
In 1980s Romania, thousands of Western films smashed through the Iron Curtain opening a window into the free world for those who dared to look. A black-market VHS racketeer and a courageous female translator brought the magic of film to the people and sparked a revolution.
Now what’s it REALLY about?
I was 6 years old in 1986 and my parents found a way to borrow a VCR. They invited all their friends over and all night they watched grainy VHS tapes of American films. I remember all the movies I watched and especially how I felt when I stepped into the living room. It was like walking into a different dimension – a secret, magical and free world. There were millions of other Romanians who secretly watched films like we did. We all grew up with the feeling that Chuck Norris was more real than the reality presented to us in the propaganda news. Those tapes and their heroes changed a whole generation. So for us, this film is about the magic of film and the power it has to change our lives. One of the biggest threads for me is about the shared experience of watching films in a dangerous and underground space. Movies meant so much more to the people in this film; it was a completely different viewing experience than the one we can relate to today. It is about the way films leave a mark on your life to the point of being able to taste that experience, even after decades have passed.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I am originally Romanian, but now I’m based in London where I started a production company with my sister and producer Mara Adina. I fell in love with telling stories about people from early on, which made me embark on a journey that took me from anthropology to ethnographic filmmaking, to working as a film editor and now directing my first feature, “Chuck Norris vs Communism.”
Biggest challenge in completing this film?
The first challenge was finding the best way to tell the story. “Don’t let this story down” is the sentence that stayed with me throughout the process. It was a journey of trying and failing. For quite some time, the main quest was finding the central character. After which, the question of “should we go with animation or re-enactments?” became central. We were constantly guided by the desire to create a cinematic experience, a film that would reach as many people as possible despite the language barrier.
What do you want Sundance audience to take away from your film?
I hope that Chuck Norris vs Communism will take the audience at Sundance back to the magical moments when they first fell in love with film.
Any films inspire you?
So many! I am a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, so “Magnolia” is up there on my list. Wes Anderson and all his films, Jim Jarmusch with “Ghostdog” and “Broken Flowers” are others. Last year I fell in love with “The Great Beauty” and “Paolo Sorrentino.” I also love documentaries that take me on an emotional rollercoaster like “The Imposter,” Marina Abramovic: “The Artist is Present” and “Undefeated.”
Mara and I are currently in development on one fiction project and two documentaries. We have given ourselves until Sundance to decide which one we pursue first.
What cameras did you shoot on?
We shot on 16mm film with the Arri 416 and we also shot on the Cannon 5D.
Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform.
Yes we did two small crowdfunding campaigns through Indiegogo.
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.