Jaak Kilmi | 2009 | 80 min | Estonia + Finland
Disco and Atomic War is the story of the evolution of television on the edge of the Iron Curtain. The capital of Soviet block Estonia, Tallinn, was so close to the Western nation of Finland that eager Communists with modified televisions could receive their broadcasts. The US State Department was quick to realize that this battle in the heads of young Communists was as important as any battleground. As the Dallases and Knight Riders poured into Soviet homes, US cash poured into Finland, helping them construct dazzling high transmission towers.
The film is told from those who were on the front lines: inventors building antennae out of scrap metal; young campers waiting for the first broadcast of Emmanuel; cousins corresponding about scandals among the Ewings.
In less capable hands the subject of broadcast television in Estonia would surely be a dry talking heads picture. While director Jaak Kilmi doesn't shy away from offering the insights of media professors and government historians, it is the flourishes of the personal stories told in beautifully spare recreations and the bevy of perfectly selected stock footage that makes Disco and Atomic War such an arresting treat to watch. It is as brilliant a synthesis of storytelling and straight information delivery as I think I have seen. The film manages to capture the enthusiasm of youthful fan devotion so strongly that it that makes the alien concept of a cloak and dagger struggle to see your favourite program easy to empathize and relate to.
I loved Disco and Atomic War. So much so that I give this movie my highest recommendation: MANDATORY STATE-SPONSORED VIEWING.
Disco and Atomic War plays Hot Docs on April 30 and May 1. Check here for schedule and watch the trailer here.