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The American Who Electrified Russia

A Documentary by Michael Chanan

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The American Who Electrified Russia


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DVD Price $220
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Streaming Price (3 years) + DVD $638

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The DVD will be released in February 2013

The American Who Electrified Russia explores the relationship between history and family memory through the biography of an individual unrecorded in the history books whose life was nonetheless intertwined with history, but in a paradoxical fashion. Solomon Abramovich Trone (1872‐1969) was my maternal grandmother’s first cousin. A participant in the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, he was also a director at General Electric, first in Russia before the First World War and then after it in America. Behind the scenes, he was a key figure in the electrification of the Soviet Union. In 1928 he was signatory - for GE - of the first contract between an American corporation and the Soviet Union. A forgotten bit of history - because it was doubtless inconvenient for either country to remember it - which is here unfolded before our eyes through archive footage, including a marvellous but forgotten film by Esfir Shub, K.Sh.E. (КЩЭ, or Komsomol Patron of Electrification) from 1932.

After retiring from GE, Trone worked as an industrial adviser in China, India and Israel. In 1940, he helped to rescue Jewish refugees from Germany. Five years later, Roosevelt appointed him to the Allied Reparations Commission, which reported to the Postdam Conference. Nonetheless, in 1953, at the height of McCarthyism, the Americans withdrew his passport, and he settled in London.

This film is not merely a celebration of Trone’s extraordinary career, but pursuing what Walter Benjamin called ‘the enigmatic question of the biographical historicity of the individual as such’, it investigates the contrast between family memory and public knowledge of history, and thereby recovers a lost perspective on the history of the twentieth century.

 

 

Michael Chanan is a seasoned documentary film-maker, author of books on both film and music, and Professor of Film & Video at Roehampton University, London. He began his professional life as a music critic, making his debut as a documentarist with a couple of films on contemporary music for BBC2 in the early 1970s. In the 80s, after a stint teaching film at the then Polytechnic of Central London, he directed a number of films on Latin American subjects, mainly for Channel Four. He returned to teaching in the 90s in the Media School of the then London College of Printing. In 2000, he was Visiting Professor in the Literature Programme at Duke University, USA, and then joined the School of Cultural Studies at the University of the West of England where he became Professor of Cultural Studies in 2002, before moving to Roehampton University in 2007.

The documentary is with assistance from the Arts & Humanities Research Council and Roehampton University. With the participation of Tariq Ali, Gabriel Chanan, Noel Chanan, David Evans, Eric Hobsbawm, Chris Hunter, Misha Iampolsky, Eric Jacobson, Harry Keen, Genie Robbins, Romila Thapar, Sasha Trone, Raphael Walden

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