A sheet of ice is one of mother nature’s magnificent creations. Built upon freezing temperatures that refuse to let life exist without harsh adaptations, its promise and pitfalls are exquisitely captured in how one faces it. For those who grew up in colder climates, those sheets might as well be golden as they navigate them with precision skates and a puck frozen to perfection. Of course, these dreams of excellence all go by another grander name, hockey. Welcome to “Red Penguins,” a kind of sequel documentary that may show a certain filmmaker obsessed with the icy rink game.
The 2014 documentary “Red Army” uses hockey as an interconnecting tissue between the Cold War, Russian sporting dominance, America’s fascination with sports, and the people firmly caught in the middle of it all. At the heart of the film is Russian player Slava Fetisov and his transition from playing for the acclaimed national team to becoming a star in his own right on the Detroit Red Wings. This icon in Red Wings history helped lead his team to a Stanley Cup in the 1990s before returning to gain prominent positions among the Russian government. Along the way, he is both vilified and hailed as a hero while those around him deal with the ever-changing Cold War; taking a toll on those unlucky enough to have experienced its consequences.
What results during the film is a captivating humanization of Russian players who were otherwise seen as the “enemy” well into the early 1990s. The struggles and strife similar to those across an ocean, yet very different in some measures. If nothing else, the level of pressure to achieve greatness weighs heavily on viewers who can only contemplate how those similar sentiments would have compelled them at the same age. It also draws attention to the sometimes unreal perceptions we place on athletes, no matter the culture. Even the most determined and strong of contenders can reach their breaking point, even with the prescribed amount of mental conditioning.
Director Gabe Polsky came to the pivotal subject of hockey, not as a novice, but as someone who relished it since childhood. For Polsky, it was all about bringing together the various subjects in a narrative often ignored in sporting films. “Making ‘Red Army‘ provided an opportunity both to explore my heritage and to examine the impact hockey had on the culture, politics, and legacy of the Soviet Union,” he said of the project. “Red Army” and “Red Penguins” are far from Polsky’s only foray into documentary subjects, he also produced 2011’s “His Way” about the late Jerry Weintraub for HBO and the sports doc “In Search of Greatness.” Werner Herzog, Jerry Weintraub, and Liam Satre-Meloy act as executive producers for the project. Herzog himself is a legend among documentarians and he and Weintraub also produced “Red Army.”
Check to the “Red Penguins” trailer below. The film is available On Digital And On Demand August 4th