Film Reviews

Review: ‘City 40’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs

City 40
(USA, 73 min.)
Dir. Samira Goetschel
Programme: World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)

You can’t get into the town of Ozyorsk, 1800 kilometers from Moscow, without permission. Ozyorsk, aka City 40, is one of the world’s “closed” cities. City 40 and the beautiful natural setting around it have been contaminated by the production of plutonium bombs, the processing of nuclear material, and Chernobyl-level disasters in nearby Mayak. The misery originates with the Cold War arms race, and the frenzied development of nuclear weapons, which City 40 documents with extensive archival material.

Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Ozyorsk wasn’t called Ozyorsk. It didn’t appear on maps and had no official status. Even today, Goetschel had to smuggle cameras into the town. The nightmarish double-speak of 1984 meets the tongue in cheek subversion of The Prisoner in City 40, where, say residents, a “cozy and beautiful” town beckons you. Back in the day, it was one of the few places where you could buy bananas and enjoy chocolate and caviar. Its people were like “imprisoned, well cared for animals,” says an observer.

Now, an activist called Nadezhda Kutepova is fighting to open the city.

City 40 reveals the extremes a totalitarian state will go to in its will to cover up inconvenient truths and ignore the well being of citizens. The doc has an impact, but it relies on an onslaught of informational detail that sometimes makes it dry and unfocused. For one thing, it needs more development of Kutepova’s story.

City 40 screens:
-Friday, May 6 at Innis Town Hall at 6:30 PM

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Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

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