Terror in Moscow

 Review of a major documentary film screened at the International Film Festival-Open Frame-(12-20 Sept 2008)


Divya Raina


Chilling image from the Film

One of the most compelling films of this festival, and there were indeed many, at this year’s PSBT international film festival and forum, was director Dan Reed’s Terror in Moscow. A 60 mt. France-UK production, it seemed a chilling reminder of the terror that stalks the world and nearer home, in Delhi itself. Based on the actual events in October 2002, when Chechen terrorists took more than 700 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, demanding an end to Russia’s war against their homeland, it depicts 48 hours of suspenseful waiting by the people and the rescue operation that is daring yet leaves many dead because of inadequate medical help.

The film depicts the nightmare that results when an unsuspecting audience out to view an entertainment suddenly finds something bizarre happen. It makes this “performance” at the theatre an actual, real life theatre –of- the- absurd experience. Imagine finding when you have gone to view the musical “42nd Street” that the fear on the actors faces in the second act is not mere acting but a reaction to the horrific arrival of a suicide bomb squad that is going to hold the (literally captive) audience as hostage for as long as it takes. There are families in the audience who hold on to each other for dear life and to their sanity in these excruciatingly tense moments. No one dares to breathe and talk or even reason with their captors because a single false move would result in certain death to all. Amidst all the endless waiting the desperate captors allow some of the elderly to relieve themselves in the orchestra pit as the bathrooms are out of bounds and the stench make this a total travesty of a normal theatre going experience.

They are told by their masked captors; “We came here to die and you’ll die with us!” The anatomy of terror, of holding such large numbers of people at ransom and under a death sentence and to have everything recorded on tape makes this a truly amazing documentary. For the entire happening was actually recorded by the theatre’s video cameras and that is the actual footage used in the film. The interviews of the survivors which open the film provide the context and further add to the riveting tale of how things can go so totally wrong when least expected. And that is how terror works; it serves to make the normal abnormal and is totally sudden and unpredictable, leading to the terrible anxiety that it can happen anywhere to anyone and at any time when least expected.

The other aspect is how people can become paralyzed by fear, their spirits crushed and unable to act. Even if there are heroic and brave individuals among the crowd, they have to act with caution for the sake of the larger community. Also, what is the state’s role in all this; do they give in to the terrorist’s demands so as to save the lives of the hostages? When do they intervene and how do they ensure no one is injured or dies? These are some of the many questions the film raises while also providing a glimpse into the psychology of the terrorists , particularly the women suicide bombers and their role and their feelings of being wronged and having had their loved one’s brutally murdered by the state. The entire question of a terrorist having a wounded psyche is examined, and this film provides many insights which make it a film no one can ignore, it should be screened widely. It is fitting that the film has won many awards including the prestigious Grierson Awards in the category: Best Documentary on a Contemporary Issue.

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