This story could have ended the Cold War long before Gorbachev… Amid the descent of the Iron Curtain, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the conflict in Vietnam lies one of the more bizarre moments of the period.
In the autumn of 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, leader of world communism and America’s arch-enemy, arrived in Washington for a no-holds-barred 2 week goodwill tour of the United States. Their aim was to influence and convert the Russian leader to the wonders of the free world but unbeknownst to them, Khrushchev had his own agenda and he wasn’t going to back down.
While some may have heard of Khrushchev’s failed attempt to visit Disneyland, many do not realize that this was just one of a hundred things that went wrong on this trip, one that stands in stark contrast to the highly scripted photo ops of today’s politicians. From angry journalists to scandalous movie stars, the entirety of the visit was cloaked by barely concealed threats and marked by chaos – almost to the point of political farce.
Americans emerged from fancy new bomb shelters for a glimpse of a Communist dictator visiting their landmarks and experiencing local hospitality. Greeted by angry mobs and celebrity gawkers, Khrushchev turned on his charm and quick wit. By the time he hit the West Coast, the US was enthralled by his presence, chasing him along the whistle-stops of his tour.
As current East-West relations become strained, this is a timely reflection on super power maneuvering. Every moment of this fleeting love affair was recorded and preserved from both Soviet and American perspectives, creating a treasure of visual material ripe for revision. Khrushchev’s personal voice recordings from the trip are used to offer a remarkable insight into his experiences in America, mixed with television footage, home movies, photos and political propaganda – both Soviet and American. Playing with didactic documentary form, director Tim Toidze weaves the humour, hysteria and surreal qualities of this state visit into a profile of the political propaganda that permeated both sides of the Iron Curtain.
At a time when ordinary Americans built atomic shelters in their backyard, Khrushchev veered between seducing them and threatening to blow them to smithereens. In the end, he won the PR war, captivating citizens and media alike in – as he termed it – the trip of his life.
Produced by Point du Jour and ARTE France with the Participation of RTS-Radio Television Suisse,RSI-Radiotelevisione Svizzera and MDR-Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk