With the ticket in my pocket to fly the next morning to Berlin, I was registering as a guest into hotel Moskva, as the trip to the Berlin’s International Film Festival started still from the airport Sheremetyevo near Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union. I had slight headache, and some unwanted body temperature. It was important to stay healthy, as the Soviets did not pay hospitalization bills of their citizens, if they fell ill during their business trips abroad. In general, the sick were not allowed to board the planes, and their boarding passes were rendered to the status of a useless pieces of paper. If you happen to be one of these disappointed travelers, you would be advised go home and drink herb tea to fasten your recovery.
I had increasing chances to become tomorrow morning one of those who would be denied boarding the plane to Berlin. My flu was becoming more and more visible on the hourly bases. At the evening before flying date, the temperature reached over 40 Celsius, my nose was stuffy and running, throat sore, lips were visibly chapped and cracked. To cut long story short, I had a legal flu! I crawled into my Moskva hotel’s luxurious bed that I did not have at home, and decided, if tomorrow I will be denied the flight to Berlin, let today enjoy this incredible bed, and have a good sleep, no matter what!
At night I woke up. I was not in hotel Moskva, but in picturesque Rila, a Bulgarian Alpine monastery trying to drink water from a small fountain set to satisfy the thrust of those who were approaching the church. The entrance was invitingly open and candles’ light was bright enough to see what was going on in the church – a traditional Eastern Orthodox sermon for complaining to God and His angels on difficulties, never ending problems of daily life of a person in flesh.
I took one more sip of water at that outdoor fountain and wondered, how I got here, and what was I doing here? The instant when these deep thoughts touched me, I was back in Moskva hotel and fell asleep again.
The next morning my temperature was normal, and my cracked lips … were no cracked anymore, they were absolutely clean and normal. I was flying to Berlin. Was a Baltic Documentary Retrospective a success? Yes and no!
Already back in Moscow, I went straight to Sheremetyevo to catch my flight to Tallinn. TV stands aired reports from Soviet delegation adventures in Berlin Film Festival. None of these reports mentioned the Baltic retrospective that I, as a witness, as a participant, saw attracting enough Western media attention to be mentioned by Moscow Central TV programs. But they kept their mouths shut about Baltic retrospective, unique program, maybe the first and the only one that proved the existence of multinational filming in the Soviet Union. Yes, we had our own “Hollywood” as Mosfilm, but we also had something that Hollywood did not have, and cannot have – multinational cinema –Gruzia films, Latvian and Estonian documentaries, Kirgiz films… but folks leading perestroika did not recognize it as an achievement, rather a nedorazumenye—a misunderstanding! Perestroika served mostly Communist Party elite. And that power upper eshelon kept at bay smallish republics, like Estonia or Latvia, or say Moldavia elite. Moscow Goskino priced our blessed documentaries as if they were Hollywood award winning feature films. It was how they killed us in Berlin, making Berlin film festival organizers suffer financially. It was how they killed us in Berlin, our upper eshelon competitors…
I was standing in front of a Sheremetyevo TV stand and while waiting my flight to Tallinn, watching every Moscow Central TV report from Berlin, and the truth about perestroika started to dawn in my stupid, naive, Estonian film critic’s head. The game was changing. Forget rules that worked in the Soviet Union, learn new rules that will come from the West, forget our so called national cinemas… They will stay in past with both good and bad experiences. Soon two Latvian filmmakers Andreas Lapinsh and Gvido Zvaizgne would be shot in broad daytime on a Riga street by the Soviet military during confrontation with the local national movement forces.
I, the participant of the Berlin film festival, an insignificant film critic, will receive death threats over the repeated phone calls from local KGB. “We will first torture and shot your son in front of you – then you!” In 1989, this repeated over and over announcement made me fled from Estonia with $15 in my pocket, and zero English on my lips to California.
Did I survive? I have forgotten details of my awaited so passionately trip to Berlin International Film Festival, and there was only one “lesson” that counted – a sip of holy water that eliminated flu with stuffy nose, sore throat, high temperature and swollen lips – overnight, giving me chance to learn deeper truth about perestroika, and many other things so beautiful on the surface, and so unimportant in its essence.
Did the sip of holy water change me? Of course – not, I was too superficial, I did not see a real value of that lesson, I forgot it, I took it for granted… and only now, when leaving this planet, I see real value of it, the true power of our mind that we ignore, do not trust, and have no idea how to handle it for benefit of ourselves and others. Nevertheless, the memory of this experience survived my long and not so easy life — reminding me that out there are great things that had nothing to do with our boring daily existence. But they are there for those who care reaching for the stars.