Viktor Toroptsev seems an unlikely hero to feature in Far Eastern Golgotha, a documentary about radical grassroots activism in Russia’s Far East. A 30-something taxi driver who describes himself as not very intelligent or educated, Viktor is a chain-smoking, rabble-rousing redneck living in a small apartment in Siberia’s Khabarovsky Krai (region) with his two sons and wife Maria, whom he describes as coming from classic «peasant» stock.
But Viktor is aware of the inequalities of today’s Russia – particularly for those living in the hardscrabble towns of the Far East, a vast area that borders Russia’s Pacific coast and so far from Moscow that many describe European Russia as «the mainland».
Cheerful and stubborn
Julia Sergina’s engaging, almost monochrome film (interiors and winter exteriors seem uniformly near black and white, and the colour-grading seems as close to uncorrected as one can get away with) opens with Viktor giving viewers a Cook’s Tour of his hometown of Amursk, pointing out abandoned apartment blocks. Later in the film, when his car is impounded by the police on a flimsy pretext they admit is designed to punish him for his political activism, Viktor turns to scrap metal collection from the ruins of deserted villages to scratch a living with the help of a borrowed flat-bed truck.
What Viktor lacks in formal education or finesse – his rugged features and toothless grin (he lost his front teeth in a fight during his military days) project a cheerful menace – he makes up for in stubbornness.
He can see for himself how neglected his part of Russia is. So neglected that in the past 30 years the Far East has lost 22% of its population—amounting to around 1.8 million people. It is this neglect, and the political corruption and stagnation he sees all around, that drives him to set up his own YouTube channel to promote people power in the Far East – a region he swears . . .
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