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Interesting subject, deplorably handled.
vlagal9 March 2003
I have to agree with zwirnm's comments. I was very excited about the possibility of learning something about this little known spot on the planet and it's infamous history. But this film makes itself more difficult to watch than is seemingly worth it, I'm sad to say. Most of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Nils Kenaston, the cinematographer (if he can be called that) who is either afflicted with a severe case of palsy or is simply the pseudonym of an escaped monkey. Why is it that there are no shots outdoors except for a those filmed through car or train windows which make one sea-sick? Again, in full agreement with the zwirnm's comments - who are these people? I think it's sad that the filmmakers went to the trouble of finding all of these interesting people, but then they don't bother to tell us who they are, how they are connected or anything but a few details of time spent in Birobidzhan. While the archival footage from the Soviet Union is interesting it is presented here completely without context - in the middle of a discussion on Stalin's plans for 'evacuating' the Jews of Russia to Birobidzhan we're suddenly presented with footage of thousands of Russians celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union. Huh? I hope someone is able to revisit this subject with a little more skill.
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Interesting story, presented somewhat blandly
zwirnm19 January 2003
The unlikely story of a Soviet attempt to create a Jewish homeland in the hinterlands of Asian Russian, near the Chinese border. Interviews (in Russian, Yiddish, and English) with some of the would-be colonists round out a rather bland voiceover by Ron Perlman. Unfortunately, while the stories are individually very interesting, the film lacks resonance and coherence and is somewhat unprofessionally presented. There are about ten things I could suggest to improve the overall quality of the documentary, but a few in short: Tell us the names of people! Let a story emerge, rather than jumping back and forth! Give us more hard facts on current life in the Jewish Autonomous Okrug! Tone down the Soviet era propaganda film/music excerpts!

Anyway, the story of the Jewish Autonomous Okrug is a fascinating one, but the film could have been greatly improved.
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Worth watching if you are curious about Stalin's homeland for the Jews
catsfugue5 April 2006
I agree with the two preceding comments so far as they go, but I see a good deal of value here nonetheless.

It is true that we are not told who the people filmed are, in the sense of being given names. But in good part the people themselves tell us who they are. They describe their families, their backgrounds, how they came to move to the Jewish Autonomous Region, and much more.

The film technique is collage. This can be annoying if you are looking for a coherent year by year story. But if you are patient, there's a good chance you will find the technique effective. The film gives you a great many of the pieces, -- the times, the interactions with Stalin's changing policies, the reactions of Soviet citizens to the whole idea, the widely varying backgrounds of the Jews who decided to go, and the range of experiences they had while they were there.

The film doesn't try to put all the ducks in a row for you. All of these things happened, it says. They are all part of the story. It is up to you to come up with your own summary, if that's what you feel is required.

Whatever the motives of the people who conceived and set up the Jewish Autonomous Region, and the hopes and dreams of those who chose to transplant themselves there, as a piece of world history what this film recounts is a very minor episode. It had few if any global repercussions. But as a window into the lives, hopes, and fates of a highly varied collection of people who were part of that roughly 1/500th of the world's population who are Jews, it is very informative, and ultimately quite moving.

Not so incidentally, as many of the interviews in the film are in Russian or Yiddish, though the running English translation text below the images gives the core meaning of what is being said, it adds a good deal to the impact of the film if the viewer has at least some knowledge of those two languages.
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