Film the_russian_winter3

Published on December 21st, 2012


Film Review: The Russian Winter

In The Russian Winter, recently released inmate, John Forte, travels to Russia in an effort to “jumpstart” his career as a musician. Forte, who began his career as a musician during the last decade of the Twentieth Century as the protégée of Lauryn Hill, was at the height of his career in the United States, having released his first solo album and being nominated for a Grammy Award.

In the year 2000, however, he was caught by the authorities at Newark International Airport (in New Jersey) with two bags full of liquid cocaine valued at millions of dollars. Forte, consequently, was sentenced to fourteen years in a Federal Prison (Fort Dix) although it was a first offense for Forte. By the year 2009, however, he had caught the attention of musician Carly Simon who passionately advocated for his release. She even posted bail for him.

As a result of good behavior, Forte was released into the society-at-large after doing seven-and-a-half years in prison (commuted by George W. Bush) despite the criminal record he sought to make a musical comeback, but time after time his efforts were stonewalled. Undaunted, Forte secured permission from his parole officer to go on tour in Russia during some of its harshest winter months. The reception he got overwhelming and marked by sold-out crowds.

 The Russian Winter, therefore, is the story of Forte’s experience as an African-American man from the United States who lives as a musician and expatriate in Moscow during those cold winter months. As a black musician, collaborating with Russian musicians, (many immersed in the haunting “New Age” sound) Forte becmoes a force to be reckoned with. No longer restrained by the shackles of his past, Forte finds a lion within himself as he pursues his music.

Produced by Le Castle Filmworks, the documentary discusses Forte’s relationship with singer Carly Simon and flaunts his new, professional relationship with red-headed Russian singer Arlina Orlova who performs both for and with Forte. Also featured are other Russian musicians who are hiphop, soul, rhythm and blues and new age performing artists.

Although The Russian Winter is a little uneven with February in Moscow and March in St. Petersburg taking up most of the 94 minutes of the film, the photography in The Russian Winter , including footage of Russia’s majestic buildings and interior design, is quite a treat. The remaining ten minutes of the DVD, however, which are used to demonstrate April in Moscow, are nothing more than a foot-note to the film.

 On a scale of from one to ten I give The Russian Winter a 9.5 for the documentary’s ability to successfully shine a light on Moscow’s underground musical  scene and to bring to life the story of John Forte  —a story we all can learn from.

This film (DVD) is suitable for all ages.

Where to purchase the (DVD)


Cleo Brown lives in Manhattan and has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in Education at The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. She has published several poems and is featured in Who’s Who in Poetry.

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