Is it better to acknowledge an unpalatable truth or to embrace the comfort of myth? Jessica Gorter's 900 DAYS contrasts the devastating and unforgettable stories recounted by survivors of the Siege of Leningrad, the infamous German blockade, which caused the deaths of more than 1 million people during World War II, with the triumphant memorials fabricated by the Russian state.
The blockade, one of the most incredible, defining events of World War II, remains largely unremembered outside of Russia. In September 1941, the 3 million inhabitants of the city now known as St. Petersburg were trapped without food or drinking water. For 900 days of subzero temperatures, people had to eat glue, leather soles, cats, and perhaps even their fellow human beings. When the city finally opened up again, nearly a million had died.
Immediately after the war, investigations of the blockade were forbidden. The Soviet propaganda machine transformed the survivors into a symbol of national heroism, silencing any questions about Stalin's war policy and its toll on the lives of ordinary Russians.
In 900 DAYS, Gorter employs newly declassified material from the Secret Service archives that reveals, in coldly impersonal statistics, the extent of cannibalism in the blockaded city and the population's fury with their own authorities. Footage of present-day Russian memorials to the survivors of the siege illustrate the persistence of the official, heroic account of the event even in light of this new information.
Elsewhere in the film, survivors speak openly, many for the first time in their lives, about their experiences and the post-war censorship. Their painful memories overshadow the public myth in which some of them had previously participated. All their lives they have been told they were heroes who guided the country toward victory, but they are increasingly aware that true recognition of their traumatic experience and the ruinous policies that allowed it to continue is still, even after half a century, far away.
"It's absolutely brilliantly done. Beautifully paced and photographed; brilliantly chosen interviews; devastatingly understated." —Anna Reid, author of LENINGRAD:TRAGEDY OF A CITY UNDER SIEGE, 1941-1944
Best Dutch Documentary, 2011 IDFA Amsterdam
Special Jury Prize, 2011 ArtDocFest Moscow
Interreligious Prize and Special Mention for Grand Prize, 2012 Visions du Réel
Special Mention, Magic Hour Award, Plante Doc, Warsaw
Official Selection, Transylvania Film Festival, Romania
Nominee, Estonian People's Award, Parnu International Documentary Festival
Official Selection, Association for the Study of Nationalities World Convention
Official Selection, Dokufest Prizren, Kosovo
Official Selection, 2013 Palm Springs International Film Festival
"Highly Recommended" —Video Librarian
"Superb! A throat-gripping look at history and its continuing ramifications. Captures in 77 deeply troubling minutes the contradiction between the oficial version of a heroic populace persevering for the Motherland, and the private bitterness of a people disgusted by the way the Soviets and their heirs avoid questions of responsibility. Beautifully integrates past and present...900 DAYS shows that even grasping the horrors on an individual level is ultimately a task few are capable of comprehending." —Jay Weissberg, Variety
"These stories are not for the faint of heart. But the documentary will help students to understand the difference between memory and history, and between the heroic stories states often tell about wars and the suppression of the real events that did not fit their narratives. As such, this is an ideal documentary to show in any history class dealing with World War II or Soviet history." —Educational Media Reviews Online
"Should be required viewing for anyone interested in the culture and history of Petersburg-Leningrad as well as the manipulations of the image and reality of World War II in contemporary Russian society." - Slavic Review