Film & Television

Andrea Simon’s New Documentary Examines the “Endless Loop of History”

Angel Wagenstein: Art is a Weapon

I’m too young to recall the McCarthy era. My earliest memory of the concept of communism was a “duck and cover” drill in first grade. In my elementary school, on the upper eastside of Manhattan, we were led out of our classroom into a wide hallway, where we sat on the floor, folded into a fetal position, heads resting on knees, against the cold tile wall. It didn’t matter if the rest of the class could see our underwear (little girls’ skirts were rather short in the 1960s). If the Russians dropped the bomb, we would be safe.

Since then, I’ve learned more about communism, but in all honesty, not much more. We read Animal Farm in high school, and I took AP European History. Reagan’s famous (and famously effective) 1984 campaign commercial warned us of “the bear in the woods.” More recently, the GOP accused President Obama, time and again, of being a socialist.

For most contemporary Americans, the equation is simple: Communism = Bad. Capitalism = Good. We think we understand — and we also think history backs us up.

But, in her masterful new documentary, Angel Wagenstein: Art is a Weapon, filmmaker Andrea Simon reminds us that, “The history you know is not the only history.”

Simon draws on historical documents, breathtaking contemporary footage, and powerful scenes from Wagenstein’s catalog of politically charged films. The result is an intriguing portrait of a great screenwriter, novelist, and lifelong revolutionary. Most effectively, Simon was able to work directly with Wagenstein, now 94 years old. He is articulate, intelligent and unfailingly charming. And, he continues to make a case for the benefits of socialism and why we must resist totalitarianism.  He has lived through three revolutions and is still very much engaged in the dialogue surrounding Bulgaria’s post-Soviet future.

“What’s the worst thing about communism?” he jokes. “What comes after it.”

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