“Big Lies” features two women and one man in their nineties as they tell their stories to an American writer about miraculous survival in the early thirties in different parts of rural Russia. Nikolay Ivanitsky remembers the day when his relatives were deported to Siberia for being “too rich” and local guys catching the last remaining chicken and the moonshine they had to party with at their sad departure. Lidia Vorobieva recollects being forced to eat grass, weeds, seeds—anything they could forage for survival—when people were dying in the streets and nobody was able to bury them. “Baba Katya” (she passed away shortly after the interview) brings us further down the timeline as she vividly remembers life in late 1930s and the wartime period in her village.
Traveling around Russia Kathleen Witkowska Tarr comes to the conclusion that the wounds inflicted by communist forced collectivization, destruction of traditional rural lifestyles, millions of dead and displaced persons, have never been healed. Even huge state investments into major agro-industrial complexes in modern times were not able to restore life in big parts of the Russian countryside, as witnessed by Arkhip, the last interviewed, a young man, 20 years old, from Pskov region. As a result, even according to official statistics, almost 100 mil hectares of former agricultural lands were abandoned which equals the territory of France and Germany put together.
How the Film Was Made
When the truth about Golodomor was revealed in the mid-1990s Igor Runov was hoping, like many others, that the devastating reports about the genocide would become a catalyst in public debates when talking about the victims of political repression, and that public outcry would eventually lead to the denouncement of communism as a criminal regime.
This, however, never happened. The filmmakers decided to interview remaining witnesses of Golodomor, as soon as possible. After considerable research, a few survivors were identified in different parts of the country—Southern Russia, Volga region and North-West—and production was started.
In the meantime, a number of disclosed documents pointed out to the unprecedented and controversial role played by American businesses and media in Soviet Russia in the early 1930s. Reports by New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty—for which he later received a Pulitzer Prize–praised Stalin and hid the truth about man-made hunger, political repressions, as well as about simultaneous massive purchases of confiscated grains by American companies dumping prices in exchange for industrial equipment. All of that demonstrated the astounding success of the first Big Lie launched by the Soviet leader. Obviously, it added a new, unexpected American dimension to the whole story and led the film’s director to change the initial scenario.
Historical Background & Relevance to the Present
We’ve gotten used to living in the post-truth world where fake-news, information leaks, cyberwars surprise nobody anymore. Special programmers or fact-checkers now count how many times American or Russian leaders cheated on their own citizens— in a week, a month or a year. And traditional journalistic institutions and news staffs have been weakened in the digital age.
The film reminds us of the maniac who masterminded the propaganda concept of Big Lie almost one hundred years ago. And about another one who first put it into practice with enormous human sacrifice. But the film also gives us hope that all BIG LIES would be impossible if all of us changed our habits and stopped accepting small lies as an unfortunate but necessary evil in our daily lives.