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Russia: Tolyatti Adrift, 2022, Laura Sistero, Spain

By: Claus Mueller, Senior Editor

Premiering at the 2022 Toronto Hot Docs documentary film festival, TOLYATTI ADRIFT is a persuasive account of the decline of Tolyatti, a city created by the Soviet Union in 1966 as a response to the US car industry and built by Russian and Italian engineers. On virtually empty lands, huge car factories and a large city were constructed.

The city was named after Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist party, and manufacturing was carried out with the Fiat corporation building Lada cars resembling their own. Taking an ethnographic perspective, Sistero focuses on the contemporary experiences of three young people in Tolyatti. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Tolyatti experienced a shrinking population and the de-industrialization of its car manufacturing base; accompanied by the rapid decline of employment and suspension of future prospects. Once presented as a symbol of socialist pride, Tolyatti is now the poorest Russian city with the nation’s highest youth unemployment rate. The previous generation is still enamored by the past, chanting patriotic songs, and praising the communist system.

The current existence of their children is defined by the miasma of a city with no future and their dreams of leaving it. The older and younger generations live in different worlds. Some of the young escape their dismal existence by becoming part of the Boyevvaya Klassika group, which focuses on recuperating old cars and drift racing them.

Those iconic cars are symbols of the past and become the center of their current lives. Elders suggest joining the army, which is rejected by the young as a waste of time because nothing of any occupational value is learned in the armed services. Instead, ways of using bribes to avoid compulsory service are explored. Popular songs express Tolyatti’s fractured experiences, “We died a long time ago, here we are born old and are waiting for our youth. I live in Russia, and I am not afraid”




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