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The Scientist, the Imposter and Stalin: How to Feed the People

a film by Gulya Mirzoeva

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Nikolai Vavilov was a brilliant biologist, agronomist, and geneticist whose life and career were driven by one passion: feeding the world. More specifically, feeding the Soviet Union, whose early decades were repeatedly marked by famines that killed millions.

Trofim Lysenko, Vavilov’s slightly younger contemporary, was also a biologist and agronomist. He made a name for himself by claiming to have developed a technique to boost wheat production, among other innovations. His innovations were more hype than science, and some led to disastrous results.

THE SCIENTIST, THE IMPOSTER AND STALIN recounts the gripping story of these two men and their scientific and political rivalry, set against the intrigue and purges of the Stalinist USSR.

Vavilov traveled the world collecting plant specimens in an effort to learn from the biodiversity of the planet and to store seeds for future research. He studied in the West and shared knowledge with his fellow scientists. He was also a firm believer in the Soviet project. “Without science, we cannot construct socialism,” he wrote.  “The work of the large-scale selection of plants begins with revolution.” 

At first, Stalin was impressed, favoring Vavilov and his work. But when Stalin’s massive collectivization of agriculture led to disaster, he needed someone to blame – and biologists were high on the list. Vavilov wasn’t arrested – yet. But his long-term approach to studying biodiversity fell out of favor.

Enter Lysenko. He rejected the existence of genes and believed the fundamental characteristics of plants could be forever changed through human action – positions that aligned nicely with the Soviet project of creating a “new man.” The data for Lysenko’s findings were inadequate or faked. But no matter. He had Stalin’s backing, and scientists who opposed him found themselves imprisoned and, in many cases, executed. Eventually, Vavilov’s time came too: he was arrested during a trip to Ukraine in 1940 and sentenced to death.

Lysenko, the charlatan, became president of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Vavilov, the scientist, died of hunger in one of Stalin’s prisons.

Made entirely with previously unreleased archival footage, THE SCIENTIST, THE IMPOSTER AND STALIN offers a rare immediacy to events that took place decades ago. It is both an engrossing story and a warning about the disastrous results of yoking science to politics.

 “The fight between biologist Nikolai Vavilov and agronomist Trofim Lysenko is the story of a merciless struggle between science and ideology.” —Film Documentaire

 “Made up only of archival films, many never before seen, the film tells the story of Vavilov’s and Lysenko’s rivalry, and its dramatic consequences…  and it recovers the betrayed hopes, the individual dramas, and the collective tragedies of the 20th century in the Soviet Union.—Le Monde

 “The confrontation between the two menbetween science and ideologyis well explained and put in its historical context." —Télé-Loisirs

55 minutes / Color/B&W
English; Russian / English subtitles
Closed Captioned

For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Russia, Food, Agribusiness, Farming, Marxist Economics, Biodiversity, Marxism and Communism

Watch the trailer:

THE SCIENTIST, THE IMPOSTER AND STALIN clip

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