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The exterior of the Khudozhestvenny Cinema in Moscow.
View more photos from the Russian premiere of My Perestroika »

I’ve just returned home after a wonderful and very busy trip to Moscow for the Russian premiere of My Perestroika.

I’d been preparing for the Russian premiere for quite a while. Though Russian-Americans had reacted wonderfully to My Perestroika, it still felt completely different, showing it to audiences in the country and city where the film takes place.

This trip was different from my previous Russian excursions. Unlike when I lived in Moscow in the 1990s and spent extended periods there while making the film a decade later, this time I arrived in Moscow not alone but with my husband and our 8 month old baby, Lucy. Neither of them were prepared for the soon-to-be-20 degree below Celsius weather, I’ll confess. But they were troopers! Lucy in particular seemed to thrive in Moscow – she started saying her first word over and over: “da, da, da.” (Ok, maybe she doesn’t quite understand that it means “yes” in Russian. But she says it so convincingly!)

The first few days we acclimated, adjusting not only to the time difference but to the fact that this year President Medvedev decreed there would no longer be daylight savings time in Russia. This means that not only was the time difference one hour more than I was used to, but it also meant that it remained dark as night well past 9am every morning! This was not something I had ever experienced in my many years living in Russia. One rumor said that his decision had something to do with cows having lower milk production when the clocks were changed. But people were pretty depressed about how dark it was every morning – so I hope that those cows are giving up gallons to make up for it.

One of the first days in Moscow, I took my family to see school 57, then to the Meyersons’ apartment for dinner. Walking through the rooms he had seen so many times on film, my husband said he felt like he was on a movie set. We had a really wonderful time catching up with the Meyersons and hearing Mark’s tales of helping organize and publicize various anti-government rallies over the past year. Mark is now in his first year at the Moscow State University (MGU) studying bio-informatics. He’s working really hard, but loves it. Lyuba and Borya were terrific with Lucy. It was hard to leave at the end of the evening (and not just because it was so cold outside).

The screenings themselves were exciting. Our Russian premiere took place in a beautiful old 650-seat theater at the Khudozhestvennyi cinema as part of a festival called “ArtDokFest.” Every seat was filled. Many old friends were there, too. People I had gone to film school with in the 1990s, people I had worked on the Russian Sesame Street with, and friends I had made over the many years of making My Perestroika. The US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, came with his entire family and his bodyguard. And of course there were many Russians who were the same generation of the people in the film, as well as people much younger and much older. One thing I have realized over the time I have been showing My Perestroika is how different the reaction is depending on the generation of the audience members. Those who lived through the events on the screen relate to it in a very intense emotional way, while younger audiences are curious about the past that they’ve heard of, but not witnessed themselves.

My Perestroika is an intimate look at the last generation of Soviet children. Five classmates go from living sheltered childhoods to experiencing the hopes of Gorbachev’s reforms and the confusion of the USSR’s dissolution, to searching for their places in today’s Moscow. With candor and humor, the punk rocker, single mother, entrepreneur and married teachers paint a picture of the challenges, dreams and disappointments of those raised behind the Iron Curtain. Through first-person testimony, vérité footage and vintage home movies, this beautifully crafted documentary reveals a Russia rarely seen on film.
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I was extremely nervous as to how the “home audience” would receive the film, and I stayed in the cinema the whole screening, listening to the audience’s reaction. Happily, it was an enthusiastic one. There was a lot of laughter, all at the right parts. There were several points during the movie when they burst into spontaneous applause. And at the end, when people shouted “Bravo, Bravo” it was a rather emotional experience.

The rest of the trip was a whirlwind of showing my beloved Moscow to my family, seeing old friends, giving lectures, doing interviews with local press, and having more screenings at the Sakharov Center, the US Embassy, and at the state news agency, RIA Novosti.. As the days went by, the temperature dropped, and in a flash it was time to leave the city where I’ve spent so much of my life and return to my other home in the States. I promised my husband that when we go back it will be in the summer.

Robin Hessman is the director of My Perestroika.

Borya and Lyuba Meyerson – the stars of My Perestroika – with my 8-month-old, Lucy
View more photos from the premiere »

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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.