More Than a Miracle?

The documentary Red Army brings to the screen a tale of hockey intrigue. And it changes the way you’ll see the upset by Team USA in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

As told stateside, the U.S. Olympic hockey victory in 1980 was a miracle on ice: A group of young, big-hearted American boys beat the Soviet hockey juggernaut. For the USA, it was a shining moment in the Cold War. But as in all great battles, there’s more to the tale—grippingly told in Red Army, an acclaimed film for which Liam Satre-Meloy ’08 served as executive producer.

At the center of Red Army is Slava Fetisov, captain of a Red Army team known for balletlike grace and chesslike stratagems. But behind the scenes was a power struggle between the army and the KGB to control the team. After humiliation in 1980, the Soviets roared back to win Olympic gold in ’84 and ’88. Then Russian players—including Fetisov—came to play in the NHL. Fetisov has since returned to serve as Putin’s minister of sport and now is a Russian senator.

Santa Clara Magazine editor Steven Boyd Saum met Satre-Meloy in L.A. to talk about the film. His words:

In the interviews, Fetisov was in some ways purposefully difficult and cagey. He thought we were trying to tell another version of the same American story that’s been told in countless different James Bond movies—with the Russian archvillain, et cetera. One of the biggest surprises is that Fetisov was offered the opportunity to defect numerous times—and probably would have been justified in doing so—yet refused. But he won, through his own form of negotiation, the legal right to come and play in the United States.

Another shocking moment: We knew about his brother dying in a car accident—but we didn’t know that he was driving the car. We knew that he and fellow defenseman Kasatonov played together on the Red Army team and for the New Jersey Devils, and that there was a cooling of their friendship, but I didn’t understand why. Also, Fetisov’s relationship with his longtime coach, Tarasov, is one of these beautiful things that emerged in the process of interviewing him and figuring out how to tell the story.

As far as making the film, I wore just about every hat that you can—hiring, managing, editing. Fifty percent of the movie is archival, and so postproduction was a big part. The first film Gabe Polsky and I made together, The Motel Life, we essentially released ourselves. It was huge to have Sony Classics pick up this. We premiered it at Cannes—then Telluride, Toronto, New York, Moscow. It captures modern Russia in a way that audiences hadn’t seen before.

The trailer and an extended Q&A:

post-image Movie poster courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment
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