Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: The Russian Woodpecker

The Russian Woodpecker

On 26th April 1986, after a fault with one of the reactors, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR exploded spewing radioactive particles into the atmosphere. It remains the largest nuclear disaster in history, in terms of casualties. The plant was under the direct control of the central authorities in the Soviet Union, and despite huge media coverage, there are still arguments about what caused the disaster to happen.

In the now independent Ukraine, eccentric artist Fedor Alexandrovich is determined to discover who really was responsible for an event which cast a huge cloud over his childhood. He was just four at the time, but the fall-out has had a lasting effect on his health. The Russian Woodpecker is in essence a film about his struggles to uncover the truth behind the disaster. Much of the evidence points towards the Duga, a massive radio antenna near the site, as playing an integral part in events surrounding that bleak day. As he embarks on his quest, director Chad Gracia and cinematographer Artem Ryzhykov are in attendance.

The Russian Woodpecker plays out like a paranoid thriller, full of intrigue and suspense. With the current tensions between Russia and the Ukraine, the spectre of the USSR rears its ugly head throughout the film. At times incredibly funny, this is really a very person enterprise for Fedor. He’s an extremely likeable and lively force who makes his own mark as the events unfold. The Russian Woodpecker is a Cold War thriller playing out in the modern age; both hilarious and unsettling.

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