What we have here is a patchy documentary that works to great effect in spurts.
The Russian Woodpecker, Chad Gracia’s collaborative effort with Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, is dry as talc – almost as if the filmmakers realized there were no other ways to deliver their factual information. Alexandrovich – as well as his scathing history with the unforgettable Chernobyl disaster – is almost always the centre of attention, and his stature and integrity is restless as he evaluates the motivation behind the documentary and the mission driving the film. This makes Fedor an erratically transfixing focal point, which comes in handy when the film’s events call for Alexandrovich and Gracia to switch gears. The same payoff doesn’t exactly come to fruition during formal “talking head” interviews.
The Russian Woodpecker is Gracia’s filmmaking debut and he shows some strengths with how he delivers spontaneity. However, I would like to see what he could do (as well as award-winning cinematographer Artem Ryzhykov) within the guidelines of a news outlet. The final scenes of The Russian Woodpecker has Gracia thinking on the fly and collecting tons of poignant B-roll that chronicles an important place in our modern era – the images are gripping, disturbing, and meaningful.
Somebody, please, hire Chad Gracia and issue him an assignment that entails consequential content in life-or-death situations. I don’t wish ill will towards the filmmaker by dropping him in dire conditions, but his expertise will be put to better use here than within the bounds of a feature-length doc.
The Russian Woodpecker screens at Toronto’s Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Wednesday, January 6 at 6:30 pm and 9:15 pm, as well as on Thursday January 7 at 6:45 pm.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie