Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Kevin Gonzales, the producer of a new upcoming documentary, “Martyred in the USSR, Militant Atheism in the Former Soviet Union.” The estimated release date is at the end of 2013 and you can view the trailer and get more information on the documentary at martyredintheussr.com.
FP: Kevin Gonzales, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what your new documentary is about.
Gonzales: Martyred in the USSR is a documentary about religious persecution, brought on by militant atheism in the former Soviet Union. The film dives into the personal and tragic stories of those who survived the persecution and the history behind it. We’ve only gotten a hand full of testimonials so far and their stories alone are very gut wrenching. One story we have tells of a father who was taken out of his house without warning and had to walk over 40 miles to the gulag in a chain gang. His daughter followed the whole time carrying a loaf of bread because she was afraid he would not have enough to eat in prison. When they finally made it to the gulag, after trudging through 40 miles of snow, the father entered the prison and she was never able to hand him the bread. In desperation she threw it over the fence hoping he would get it. She never saw him again. His crime: he simply attended a church. It is really amazing how the Soviet government hated religion of any kind. Many people don’t know this but Nikita Khrushchev launched an anti-religious campaign that was worse than Stalin’s, and that was between 1953 to 1964.
Nicholai Khamara after being tortured to death in prison in 1964. He was found with a rag stuffed in his mouth and his tongue cut out. He was tortured simply for being a newly converted Baptist.
FP: What inspired you to make this film?
Gonzales: I wasn’t really looking for it and it kind of just fell in my lap. I’ve done news and corporate video most of my career and I wanted to make the switch to the more creative side so I thought a documentary would be the best way to do it. I was looking for a topic but I’m here to tell you, this one would have been the last thing on my mind to produce. I was in church one day and was talking to one of the parishioners, Oxsana, and asked her where she was from. She told me she was from a small town in Russia and of course, the first thing I asked, being a nosey producer, was “How was practicing a faith of any kind during the Cold War?” and it started from there. She told me she remembers her dad, a local pastor, telling her and her siblings to hide under the bed because the KGB was banging on their front door. Oxsana moved to the US when she was five so she told me I should really interview her parents because they have more first- hand knowledge and so a year later I went down to Orange County, just outside of LA, and interviewed her dad, grandfather and two family friends. Their stories were amazing and I knew this would make a fantastic documentary.
Ft. Samsomas. Beaten to death during a KGB interrogation.
FP: Why do you think our mainstream culture and our society at large ignores this issue?
Gonzales: Well, I believe there are two reasons for this. First is, the public in general simply does not know about it. Dr. Christopher Marsh, one of our experts who’s interview is on the website, says that when he lectures in Russia the youth he talks to know nothing about it and will deny that it ever happened. They even go on to say that Stalin had a few faults but he was really an OK guy. I almost fell out of my seat when Dr. Marsh told me that. He went on to say that since the persecution was never taught in the schools, the new generation of teachers don’t even know themselves. (History is written by the victors.) I have gotten much of my information from the Keston Institute which has hundreds if not thousands of personal hand written documents, magazines, and photos from those that lived during that militant atheist regime, that prove otherwise. To say that Stalin, Lenin, Khrushchev, or any of them were “OK guys” is pretty much an oxymoron.
Secondly, many of the survivors simply want to forget and move on with their lives. I tried to speak to get three groups of Russian Jews to tell their story and none of them wanted to speak. This has happened to me with other religions as well, not just the Jews.
Congregation meeting outside because their Church was destroyed by the Soviet government.
FP: What is the layout of the film? Will this be the typical Discovery or History Channel style documentary?
Gonzales: No, not at all. Actually that is the one thing I am desperately trying to avoid. Not that I have anything against the History or Discovery channels, I’m simply trying not to make another boring fact based documentary. So, to avoid that I’m integrating mini reenactments of personal testimonies from survivors. And not just a reenactment with narration, but short movies within the documentary that could stand on their own if needed. There is no narration during the reenactments. At the end of each vignette the actual person will come on screen and close that reenactment. From their we’ll go back to the facts, figures and history of the topic. I’m looking to put about 6 to 7 reenactments throughout the documentary. That’s one of the reasons the budget is a bit high.
Ft. B. Povilanskis after being physically beaten and tortured in a Soviet Lithuanian Information Center in 1980.
FP: What is the budget roughly?
Gonzales: The current estimated budget is $450k which, for this type of doc, is normal due to the travel, reenactments, and stock footage needed. Another documentary came out in 2008 called the Soviet Story which was about communism itself in Russia and it’s dealing with Germany. I spoke with the director of the film and he told me his budget was about $400k and almost half of that went to stock footage. This is why we really need people to give and spread the word. What is great is that the film qualified for fiscal sponsorship through the San Francisco Film Foundation (SFFS) which means that donations are tax deductible. The SFFS is a great organization and is responsible for producing the San Francisco International Film Festival each year.
Soviet Prison Camp
FP: What do you hope your film will help achieve?
Gonzales: I want to tell a story that has never been told before and to show how the elimination of religion will lead to situations like North Korea, China, and the French Revolution. There have been some articles and brief mentions about it on TV or in a documentary, but no one has dived into the outright attack against the religious realm by the Soviet government. Many focus on the Lenin or Stalin era but the persecution was going on all the way up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Rev. Michael Bourdeaux, our other expert and the founder of the Keston Institute, studied in Russia in 1959 and 1960 and he saw the persecution first hand. And the old saying is very true, “Those who do not know their own history are condemned to repeat it.” I interviewed a Pentecostal paster from Samara Russia a couple of years ago and he said that in some areas of his own city you cannot evangelize in any way. He said, “They are watching you.”
“New Prisoner List.” Some churches would put out a list of newly arrested people so loved ones would know. Many times people were arrested and never seen again. Their families never knew what happened to them.
FP: Kevin Gonzales, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview and thank you for telling the truth about the martyred in the USSR and for keeping their memory alive.
Gonzales: Thank you Jamie for having me and remember to checkout the website and also please LIKE our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/martyredintheussr. We are really pushing to get the budget in to produce it this year. Thanks again.
Editor’s note: To view the trailer for Martyred in the USSR, see below:
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