Movie Review: ‘Russian Woodpecker’
Psychologists point out that when we experience traumatic and tragic event, which almost seems outside the realm of possibility we tend to make connections where none may exist. In the 2015 documentary the Russian Woodpecker we see Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich go through this process. As a boy the Chernobyl disaster left a massive emotional impact on Alexandrovich as he was torn away from his family and experienced his hometown abandoned to a nuclear disaster. Now as a man he seeks to discover the truth behind one of the biggest disasters of the twentieth century as figure out that it may be part of a larger conspiracy. As an audience we watch as the artist by trade tracks down those who worked at Chernobyl and learns that the power plant should not be the focus of his investigation, rather the massive Duga radio tower next to the infamous power plant. Costing the Soviet Union billions, the signal broadcast from Duga was known internationally as the “Russian Woodpecker” as it played a nonstop rapid tapping. Fedor Alexandrovich forms a conspiracy theory that a high ranking Soviet official caused the Chernobyl meltdown to cover up the fact that Duga was not functioning as planned.
The bizarre journey Alexandrovich goes on to discover his truth is part of a larger story, as the conspiracy unfolds against the backdrop of an emboldened Putin seeking to retake his country in the midst of the political turmoil in the Ukraine. Whether you believe the conspiracy theory put forth by the eccentric artist in this movie or not, the looming shadow of Russia is something we can relate to in the current world climate. As a documentary the Russian Woodpecker is incredibly well made; both visually and in a storytelling aspect. Alexandrovich is an odd man with crazy ideas, but this documentary also shows a heroic and defiant side of this social outsider which is fascinating to watch. The Russian Woodpecker pairs a chilling conspiracy theory with stunning visuals to be one of the most unique documentaries in recent years.