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The Ballad of Bering Strait (2003)

"The Ballad of Bering Strait" is a cinema-verite film following seven Russian teenagers who have come to America to become country music stars. Principle photography began in July 1999 when... See full summary »


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Complete credited cast:
Alexei Arzamastsev ...
Bering Strait - Drums (as Alexander Arzamastsev)
Natasha Borzilova ...
Bering Strait - Lead Vocals
Andrei Missikhin ...
Bering Strait - Bass (as Andrei Misikhin)
Sergei 'Spooky' Olkhovsky ...
Bering Strait - Bass
Bering Strait - Steel Guitar (as Alexander 'Sasha' Ostrovsky)
Sergei Pasov ...
Bering Strait - Fiddle (as Sergei Passov)
Lidia Salnikova ...
Bering Strait - Keyboard (as Lydia Salnikova)
Ilya Toshinsky ...
Bering Strait - Banjo
Mike Kinnamon ...
Personal Manager
Brent Maher ...
Record Producer
Tim DuBois ...
President, Arista-Nashville
Ray Johnson ...
Art Dealer
Valery Salnikov ...
Lydia's Father
Phil O'Donnell


"The Ballad of Bering Strait" is a cinema-verite film following seven Russian teenagers who have come to America to become country music stars. Principle photography began in July 1999 when the band, Bering Strait, entered the United States and began recording their first album in Nashville. The film documents the band responding to the twists and turns of the recording industry, rehearsing for their tour, preparing for their debut concert at the Grand Ole Opry, charting the course for their career with their managers, and living every-day life on the farm where they reside in rural Tennessee. The crew traveled with the band to their homes in Obninsk, Russia and to their music conservatories in Moscow, documenting how these two girls and five boys became so adept at playing American country music. The film culminates with the band's arrival on the U.S. stage at Wolf Trap National Park. "The Ballad of Bering Strait" is a two and a half year epic that follows Bering Strait's amazing ... Written by Emerging Pictures web-site

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Documentary | Music




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Release Date:

19 February 2003 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Thoughtful, humanist documentary.
21 February 2004 | by See all my reviews

It sounds like the perfect high-concept Hollywood plotline: eager, appealing, talented Russian teenagers dream of making it big in music -- but their chosen genre is American-style bluegrass and country. They learn their chops in Russia, then travel to the US and play at the Grand Ole Opry, to great acclaim and instant fame, "rubles to riches".

Were life a movie, that's the way it would work. But this movie is a life, many lives in fact, and things aren't so simple...

The band "Bering Strait" works for years to attain their dream of recording at Nashville, strive to stand out and be thought of as more than a novelty act ("Hey look -- a Russian playin' a banjo!"), try to be patient in the face of obstacles. Basically, just like any band anywhere. And ultimately that is what this documentary is about -- strip away the Russian accents, and these kids are facing the same problem aspiring bands anywhere have had. They have to balance schooling with career, deal with parents who love them but really wish they had chosen a more stable profession, agonize over letting a band member go. These are the universals of the music world.

Watching this film makes one wonder how *any* group makes it in music. As a recording exec points out, there are "hundreds of thousands" of talented musicians waiting for a chance, and the odds are very poor for them getting it... Even Bering Strait, with their hook of being foreign, have to weather years of promises and the storms of the recording industry.

Though the stress *is* a bit more exaggerated for them -- due to visa restrictions they cannot do any work in the U.S. other than music, not even flipping burgers, so periods where they are not working are especially frustrating. They feel helpless, powerless, isolated and homesick. (In an ironic twist on stereotypes, the urbanite Russian teenagers end up spending most of their time in America on a farm.) Their manager, producer, etc. are shown as folks who genuinely care for them, and in fact are putting themselves at risk for the band's sake, but the band themselves feel tossed about by fate.

Ironically, the music the band aspires to sounds (to this non-country-tuned ear) indistinguishable from any other top 40 country songs. The band is talented, the singers have lovely voices, but they seem to be willing to trade distinctiveness for success. Only when they perform a traditional Russian piece in a bluegrass arrangement do they stand out and show some pizazz.

(The film shows American reactions to their music: "Did they sound Russian?" Amusingly, one woman thinks they sound "too Yankee". And watching good ol' boys in a Nashville bar trying to pronounce Russian names is alone worth seeing the film.)

Watching this film, one is left with a sense of the basic decency of people everywhere. Nationalities are set aside as the common thread of human experience works through. (You don't have to speak Russian to understand the concern on the faces of the kids' parents as they contemplate their futures.) Even the sometimes harsh recording business is seen as being peopled with good folk who have troubles of their own. And the kids, though sometimes anxious and depressed, never descend into sullen attitude. (Though whether this is a product of their Russian background or the ambience of country music is unclear -- how would a rock band have fared, under the same circumstances?) And even everyday southern Americans, where the stereotype might suggest otherwise, are depicted as being open-minded to the idea of Russians playing country music.

Anyone who dreams of making it in music should see this film, as should anyone who knows them.

Most of the film is in English, with occasional subtitles.

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