Documentary: Chuck Norris Helped Open Communist Romania to West

During the darkest days of communism, Romanians had something to brighten their oppressed existence—illicit American movie parties.

Under Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, the Eastern European country had very little contact with the West. But thanks to Teodor Zamfir who was willing to smuggle VHS tapes, and his translator Ilina Nistor who dubbed them, over 3000 movies made it over to Romania between 1985 and 1989. Millions of lives were changed and uplifted as a result. 

After recognizing Nistor’s voice at a film festival, Ilinca Calugareanu chatted with the woman whose inflection and tone were nearly as recognizable to Romanians as those of Ceausescu’s. After the discussion, Calugareanu and her sister Mara Adina decided to make a film, which they named Chuck Norris v. Communism.

“The film follows the way this business develops and also the impact it has on the millions of Romanians who watched these tapes,” Calugareanu explained to Variety. “And, the special thing is the way they were consuming the films. VCR was very hard to get … so whenever people found the VCR, everyone in the block of flats or the house would group around and there would be screenings with twenty, thirty people all crammed into one room, and watching five, six films in a row, because if you had the VCR you had to keep going all night.” 

The brave efforts of Zamfir and Nistor helped open up Romania to the west and end the soviet regime. According to The Daily Beast, the “media was more powerful than anyone could have imagined. Despite a few scares, the regime never attempted to shut down Zamfir’s smuggling or the private video parties. In fact, many members of the country’s Secret Service were bribed with tapes (their families were just as eager to watch Chuck Norris in Lone Wolf McQuade as everyone else). Even Ceausescu’s son was one of Zamfir’s clients.”

Calugareanu hopes that her “documentary raises questions about the power of film to affect us and even make us act.” It’s certainly refreshing to see the media have positive influences once in a while!

If you’re interested in viewing the film, Chuck Norris v. Communism will be aired on the PBS Independent Lens Channel on Monday, January 4 at 10 pm. 

Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites, the Tom and Kipp Gutshall Intern, is a contributing writer for MRC Culture.