Distributor:  Icarus Films
Length:  80 minutes
Date:  2010
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Estonian / English subtitles
Grade level: 9-12, COLLEGE, ADULT
Color/BW:  Color / Black and White
Closed captioning available
Interactive transcript available
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This title is included in the following collections: The Icarus Films Collection, The Docuseek2 Complete Collection 2nd Edition
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Disco and Atomic War

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The Soviet regime in Estonia went head to head with J.R. Ewing and the heroes of Western television...and lost.

Disco and Atomic War

Winner of the Best Documentary prize at the Warsaw International Film Festival, this witty, charming, and provocative film recounts how in the mid 1980's, the nation of Estonia still lay firmly in the grip of the Soviet Union, and the repressive authorities controlled virtually all aspects of Estonian life. The totalitarian government's power was derived in no small part from their ability to censor cultural life and keep Western culture on the other side of the border. Rock and Roll was but a rumor and the only television shows on the air were dreary propaganda. But one day everything changed. Just a few miles across the border in Finland, a huge new television antenna was built that broadcast western signals in all directions--including directly into the heart of the Talinn, the capital of Estonia.

Filmmakers Jaak Kilmi and Kiur Aarma grew up in Talinn in the 80's, and in DISCO AND ATOMIC WAR they make use of wonderfully playful but credible recreations to set their true personal coming of age story against the backdrop of the rapid collapse of the Soviet government in Estonia. As illicit television antennas sprung up in Northern Estonia, rumors about the attempted murder of J.R. Ewing spread by word of mouth to the rural south, and the nation of Estonia was as gripped by the saga as the USA had ever been.

Teenagers went to their school dances and imitated the disco moves they saw on television, clothing and hairstyles began to change radically, and things would never be the same. The government controlled media scrambled to create western-style soap operas and disco-saturated television programming that vaguely reinforced communist values, but it was far too little, and much too late. The genie was out of the bottle, Estonians were now in the grip of American television, and they began to dream that one day, they too would spend their days working in skyscrapers and their nights drinking fine whiskey by the pool, alongside their robot car. Synopsis courtesy of Rooftop Films.

'It's an ingenious and masterful film, so funny and so heartbreaking it may leave you giggling and crying by turns, and it reminds us that pop culture, even at its most venal and idiotic - perhaps especially then - is the gooey, delicious sauce that comes on top of Freedom fries.' -Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

'Subversively funny!' -V.A. Musetto, NY POST

'A deadpan-comic document of how filmmaker Jaak Kilmi and other grade schoolers in early-80s Estonia had their lives altered by illegally-intercepted Finnish TV broadcasts of Western hallmarks like Dallas, disco dance shows and the original Emmanuelle, Disco's great gift is a total deconstruction of the notion of 'soft power' - essentially, a nation's attempt to assert and maintain its dominance through not violent but viral means, including media and public relations.' - indieWIRE.com

'Disco is a funny, inventively made work of true-life science fiction about the futility of trying to keep brains safe from outside influence.' - Spout.com

'The film is lively and fresh and possessed of that sort of droll Eastern European comedy that laughs hardest when life's ironies are at their cruelest. It's a delight.' - Shawn Levy, The Oregonian

'A witty, insightful and thoroughly entertaining political thriller about how the Iron Curtain did battle with contraband Western-tinged airwaves from Finland.' - NOW Magazine

'Adopting a highly idiosyncratic, lighthearted and yet entirely convincing approach to explaining how the communists lost the Cold War, Estonian-Finnish documentary DISCO AND ATOMIC WAR represents the latest sprightly effort from consistently original Estonian helmer Jaak Kilmi (REVOLUTION OF PIGS').' - Variety


** Best Documentary, 2009 Warsaw Film Festival
** 2009 Telluride Film Festival
** 2010 Hot Docs Film Festival
** 2010 Seattle Film Festival
** 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival
** 2010 Rooftop Films Summer Series
** 2012 Disappearing Act IV European Film Festival in New York


Main credits

Kilmi, Jaak (Director)
Kilmi, Jaak (Screenwriter)
Aarma, Kiur (Producer)
Aarma, Kiur (Screenwriter)

Other credits

Producer, Kiur Aarma; authors, Jaak Kilmi, Kiur Aarma; editor, Lauri Laasik; music, Ardo Ran Varres.

Distributor credits

Jaak Kilmi

Docuseek2 subjects

Mass Media
Radio and Television
European History
The 1950s and the Cold War
International Relations and Geopolitics

Distributor subjects

Cold War Era
Cultural Anthropology
Cultural Studies
Eastern Europe
History (World)
Media Studies
US and Canadian Broadcast Rights


Jaak Kilmi; Finland; Estonia; USSR; Baltic states; media freedom; television; radio free europe; documentary; film; video; DVD; Estonian; communication technologies; information; knowledge; consumption; uneven political development; cultural geography,"Disco and Atomic War",Icarus Films

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