The Red Soul

92 min | Russian with English subtitles

November 2017
Zeppers Fim en TV

Distribution & world sales:
Deckert Distribution
Ina Rossow /

Press relations :                    
Mirjam Wiekenkamp /

Watch this film online:
The Red Soul (EU)/The Red Soul (USA)



Why is it that still so many Russians defend Stalin as a great leader and a hero? The Red Soul lays bare the Russian psyche of today and shows a world full of contradictions. 

World première: Sunday November 19th, 2017, IDFA Amsterdam


"Winning combination of topicality and artistic quality... Gorter sensibly leaves the viewer to draw their own historical connections between the past and the present."
The Hollywood Reporter

"The films not about Stalins terror, but about the way Russians deal with it today. Just like Gorter's 900 Days is not about the starvation of the German starvation siege of Leningrad, but about the memories of it."
Jos van der Burg - De Filmkrant (NL)

"Nearly 65 years after the death of Joseph Stalin, director/co-writer Jessica Gorter (900 Days) asks citizen of the Russian Federation the question if Stalin was a tyrant or a saviour. The response is illuminating, sad and relevant."
Meredith Taylor - Filmuforia

"A striking documentary that avoids moralizing and easy answers; The Red Soul counters traditional stereotypes about Russia and highlights the complexity of Russians' views not just of Stalin, but of Soviet history."
Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Harvard University


About the film


In the country where hardly any family escaped Stalin’s terror, no one has ever been convicted for the crimes committed under his regime. How can it be that in the year 2017 Stalin is still revered as a hero who resolutely industrialized the Soviet Union, defeated the Nazi’s and made the Red Empire into a global power? While at the same time being known as a tyrant who used his own people as slaves and caused the deaths of millions of innocent citizens?

In Red Square in the heart of Moscow, Igor (45) lays red carnations at Joseph Stalin’s grave on the former leader’s birthday. To Igor, his leadership symbolizes law and order. The son of this friendly freelance photographer died from drug abuse and Igor was disillusioned by perestroika: ‘In the new capitalist era the naïve Soviet citizens became “shark feed” and everything that was good about the Soviet Union and might have been kept, was lost.’

High up in the forests of Northern Russia, Galina (75) is digging up the bones of anonymous victims that are being exposed by erosion. In the past twenty years she has managed to identify only 83 of around 20.000 people thought to be buried in these mass graves. A handful of volunteers is still searching for the fates of people who were banned, executed or made to disappear in Stalin’s Gulag.

The initial enthusiasm of Russians about the freedom that came with perestroika, and with it the need to investigate a past that has been suppressed for many years, seems to be well and truly gone.  For many, the shock of the Red Empire collapsing was too great. What should they do with this newly gained freedom, when chaos and mafia practices were taking over? After the turbulent 1990s, when many Russians were living in poverty, and uncertainty about the future, there is now a need for law and order. Older people want to look back on a past they can be proud of, and the young want to look forward to a future they can believe in.

The Red Soul shows a world full of contradictions. In a mosaic of frank and intimate portraits of ordinary Russians both young and old, pride alternates with pain and shame. Nostalgic stories about how the country flourished under the Communist ideal contrast sharply with painful memories of hunger, violence and betrayal and a deep-seated fear on the part of citizens to show their Motherland in an unfavourable light.

Struggles with the past are set against the heroic image of a country full of victors that the State wants to propagate. More than once, it turns out, these paradoxical views can be found in one and the same person. From this complex perspective, rather than taking a moral stance, Jessica Gorter tries to find the connections between fear and cruelties on the one hand and pride and ideals on the other. Slowly a picture emerges of people in a confused country where the main message for the young to hold on to seems to be that pride is more important than memory.

Director's Statement


All my life I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there is no unequivocal truth. The challenge for me as a filmmaker is to reveal the complexity of this theme by exposing parallel worlds where different truths live side by side. In the winter of 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, I travelled to St. Petersburg - then still called Leningrad - for the first time. I was gripped by the silent revolution taking place there and started closely following the development of Russia and its inhabitants.

I am struck by the way Russians deal with their extremely painful collective past. How do you get your head around the fact that the man you have pinned all your hopes on to lead you to a glorious future is the same man who abandons his own people and has them killed randomly? Surely this violent history that took place during Stalin’s regime, in which hardly any family escaped the killings, must have left deep marks in the lives of current generations? Then why is this history apparently not an issue in today’s Russia?

For this film, as I did for my previous film, 900 Days, about the myth and reality of the Siege of Leningrad, I talked to “ordinary” Russians: young, old, people from the city, from the country, from all walks of life. In The Red Soul they reveal how difficult, delicate and painful a subject this extremely violent past is to them; how they deal with it, what place it occupies in their lives and how different their perspectives are on this history.

The wiping out of independent farmers in order to realize the Communist ideal of collectivization, Stalin’s terror followed by World War II leading to millions of victims – not a single Russian was left unaffected. This succession of cruel events took place without being followed by any sustained period of quiet and economic stability. The chaotic 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union turned out to be yet another traumatic experience for many Russians. The “promised” freedom came with a callous capitalist system in which many were unable to keep their heads above water, giving them no time or space whatsoever to reflect on and come to terms with what had happened in the past.

In The Red Soul I not only show how the first generation deals with these traumas, but also the way it influences the next generations and how this affects today’s Russia. The different realities of their history as outlined by Russians often clash with my own vision, my Western perspective in which crime should naturally lead to punishment. To understand today’s Russia in which Stalin seems to be restored to his pedestal, it is important to take these different, paradoxical and coexistent interpretations of Soviet history seriously, rather than holding on to a single vision.

It’s the personal stories that bring us closest to individual people and give us insight into the big historical picture. Different perspectives together offer a view of history that is at least as interesting as one official line. The main insight I gained in making this film is that emotional repression can be a necessary survival strategy. When these different perspectives, or in this case realities, exist within one generation, one family or even one person, it may not make history any easier, but it does make it more intriguing.