The Russian Woodpecker Trailer: A Fantastic Preview of a Hauntingly Real Story

By  · Published on March 5th, 2015

Not only did we include The Russian Woodpecker on our list of the best movies of Sundance this year, but we also gave it our own award for the best documentary feature of the festival. Sundance gave it a prestigious Grand Jury Prize for its World Cinema – Documentary program, too. Suffice to say, it’s an incredible feature, and now we’re honored to have our name on the first trailer, blurbed right after Alec Baldwin. Of course, the quote is technically from a review by Daniel Walber originating at our sister site, Nonfics, but it was shared on Film School Rejects and, well, really, we’re just glad to help out either way.

The trailer above comes directly from director Chad Gracia, which is noteworthy because I guess The Russian Woodpecker hasn’t been picked up yet. And with all the praise you see on screen above! I guess it’s a rather complicated story, none of which is detailed in this preview, and it could be a hard sell, but I like what they’re starting with here. The trailer contains only the haunting sound of the woodpecker-like signal that baffled civilian and official radio operators worldwide through the end of the Cold War. And the visuals without context are even more surreal and sci-fi-like than they actually are in the doc.

The tower you see is the intimidatingly enormous Duga-3 radar system in Ukraine, which the film proposes was meant to had something to do with the disaster at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant – hence the shots of seemingly post-apocalyptic locations and gas masks. The soldiers and protestors and riot scenes are part of the Ukrainian Revolution. It all looks so fantastical yet is all so very real.

You can see my brief personal take on the doc on our Sundance awards post, where I claim it “has it all: humor, terror, drama, politics, revolution, history, prophesy, secrets, lies, actual locations that look like they belong in science fiction and an eclectic protagonist who makes scenes seem even more fantastical or more real at any turn.” And of course you should read Daniel’s full review, from which this first paragraph lent the trailer its final blurb:

Fedor Alexandrovich has the unkempt, bushy look of a Bolshevik or a doomsday prophet. He has some surprising things to say. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which happened when he was just a kid living nearby, may have been orchestrated by high ranking Soviet officials. An enormous radar facility may have been involved. Fedor has taken it upon himself to uncover these secrets, adding amateur journalist to a resume that includes artist, playwright and filmmaker. He might be Don Quixote and he might be Edward Snowden. And before the end of The Russian Woodpecker, filmmaker Chad Gracia‘s chronicle of this investigation, you may very well believe him.

Hopefully you will all get to see this amazing work very soon in some way or another.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.