reviewed by Matthew Schuchman | Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The Russian Winter

Le Castle
94 min., dir. by Petter Ringbom, with John Forte, Brian Staz, and Victor Logachev

Everyone wants to attain a high level of success, and when one reaches it at a young age, it seems things can’t go wrong. For John Forte, success took him down a strange road that landed him in jail. In about five years, Forte’ went from being the 21-year-old Grammy-nominated producer and touring musician, to a long term-resident of a federal prison.

The Russian Winter follows Forte on his tour of Russia, not long after his release. A film about second chances, unimaginable circumstance, world views, and the healing powers of art, The Russian Winter is more than just a film about John Forte.

Forte’s sentence was commuted in 2008 by George W. Bush as he was leaving office. Strong support by those close to Forte who fought for the musician’s release each year finally came to fruition. As Forte re-acclimated to the outside world, he connected with an old friend and business partner who has been living in Russia, and the two agreed that John should tour the country. Part tour and part humanitarian mission to talk to children in Russian orphanages, Forte and his band headed oversees. Prior to leaving, John selected a group of popular Russian acts that he would collaborate with both in the studio and on stage during the trip. With glimpses into all aspects of these artists and they creative processes, there is something for everyone to connect to.

This entire film may have started off as a pure tour documentary, but as with all life events, things change. The Russian Winter shines a light on someone lucky enough to be given a second chance, and his attempt to make things good for himself, while trying to help others realize they have so much. Other issues become unearthed: there’s a fair amount of worldly misconceptions that Forte and company encounter due to cultural differences, but those same issues exist here at home as well.

On a pure entertainment level, the direction of Forte’s soul-driven R&B hybrid style is a treat for your ears, and his collaborative efforts with the chosen Russian artists are just plain fantastic. They may not follow the same path, but just as Forte has a new chance to open the world to his music and his words, these Russian artists will find a whole new audience here and around the world with this film. There isn’t one song in this whole movie that isn’t terrific.

The Russian Winter is one of the few feature-length films available on Tribeca’s on-demand service during the festival. So if you can’t make it into a screening or are elsewhere in the world, simply click here to view the film.

Matthew Schuchman is the founder and film critic of Movie Reviews From Gene Shalit’s Moustache and also the contributing film writer for IPaintMyMind.

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