Independent Lens: Chuck Norris vs Communism

About This Episode

In communist Romania, thousands of Western films on bootleg VHS tapes — mostly Hollywood action movies — were smuggled behind the Iron Curtain, opening a window into the free world.

Under President Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania was culturally isolated and ideologically censored. Images of life outside its borders were cut off and TV was reduced to propaganda bulletins, and the threat of surveillance prevented people from stepping out of line. But in the mid-1980s, under the nose of the Securitate (the secret police), thousands of Hollywood films were smuggled into the country by an underground operative named Zamfir, and they were all covertly dubbed by Irina Nistor, a courageous translator whose distinct voice captivated the nation and became a symbol of freedom.

As we see through re-creations in Chuck Norris vs Communism, a network of secret screening rooms sprung up across Romania as families, friends, and neighbors gathered to watch action heroes like Norris, Van Damme, and Stallone, along with romantic comedies, dramas, and Hollywood epics. While the stories captured the imagination, it was the lavish settings and backdrops that mesmerized the audience. The films offered Romanians glimpses of the abundant West, which prompted the regime to clamp down on the clandestine screenings, casting an atmosphere of ever-present danger and suspicion.