SYNOPSIS: Disco and Atomic War tells the story of a strange kind of information war, where a totalitarian regime stands face to face with the heroes of popular culture – and loses. Western popular culture had an incomparable role in shaping Soviet children’s world-views – in ways that now seem slightly odd. Finnish TV was a window to a world of dreams that the authorities could not block. Though Finnish channels were banned, many households found some way to access the forbidden fruit.
Imagine if television cliff-hangers offered no resolution. Shots are fired – J.R., the infamous oil baron of America’s prime-time soap opera Dallas, lies in a pool of his own blood. But there is no concluding episode, no perpetrator to unmask. And we, as television viewers, are left suspended in speculation.
This is no world to live in. But through most of the 70s and 80s, such was the fate of TV fans in Soviet Estonia.
In his newest film, Disco and Atomic War, Estonian director Jaak Kilmi retells the esoteric history of Estonians who grappled for the freeflow of Western television that reached their TV antennas in the capital of Tallinn from across the sea in Finland. Through archives, reenactments, interviews and wildly creative docu-fiction narratives, Kilmi and producer Kiur Aarma follow the tenacious battle of the Estonian government and KGB officials to sever the ‘ideological waves’ of capitalist influence through the television set.
In the fog of more redundant stories about communist brainwashing and propaganda, Disco and Atomic War offers comical relief from a long and persistent historical narrative. During Kilmi’s childhood, Estonian youth were vulnerable to something called ‘soft power’ – America’s secret weapon to counteract Soviet ideals through the most addictive yet seemingly innocent means possible: popular culture. The fact the television programming could control the tastes, ideals and worldview of its consumers, made it the most severe weapon of Western control.
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