Toronto Doc ‘Red Penguins’ Recounts Wild Era in Sports

Variety | 9/5/2019 | Ed Meza
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In “Red Penguins,” writer-director Gabe Polsky looks back at a curious and little-known chapter in U.S.-Russian relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union, one that marked the beginning of a promising, if short-lived, friendship between the two longtime adversaries by way of the NHL.

Described as “one of the most bizarre stories of the post-Cold War era,” the documentary, which screens in TIFF Docs, recounts the attempt by the Pittsburgh Penguins and the former Soviet Red Army’s national hockey team to set up a joint venture in an effort to demonstrate to the world the possibilities offered by the new Russia, not to mention the legendary prowess of Russian hockey players.

Part - Endeavor - Pittsburgh - Penguins - Sports

As part of the ambitious endeavor, the Pittsburgh Penguins hired eccentric American sports marketing consultant Steve Warshaw in 1993 to help restore the bankrupt and downtrodden Red Army team to its former glory. In the lawless vacuum of unchecked capitalism and opportunism, the enterprise succeeds spectacularly. The Red Army team’s games suddenly become Moscow’s biggest entertainment event. Strippers, beer-serving bears on skates and promotional giveaways bring in crowds, cash, big-name sponsors and, ultimately, gun-toting gangsters.

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