Bucharest to Brasov. Shot completely on my 1st generation iPhone using Cycorder.

For those in the West with any conception of Romania at all, it is likely composed of images from the various interpretations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and, depending on your generation, a 2006 episode of South Park in which Colorado rallied against Romanian bureaucrats (for some reason speaking with Russian accents) who were trying to keep orphans in Romania. The conclusion of the episode: Romania’s gay, Romania sucks.(In 2001 Romania banned foreign adoptions to stem the growing trend of auctioning babies to the highest bidder and to ease concerns about human trafficking from the EU which Romania finally joined in 2007.)

Then there is Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat, which inflamed the sensibilities of Kazakhs, but was actually shot on location – with local actors speaking Romanian – in Glod (since renamed Moroieni), Romania. Writes the UK’s Daily Mail:

But now the villagers of this tiny, close-knit community have angrily accused the comedian of exploiting them, after discovering his new blockbuster film portrays them as a backward group of rapists, abortionists and prostitutes, who happily engage in casual incest.

They claim film-makers lied to them about the true nature of the project, which they believed would be a documentary about their hardship, rather than a comedy mocking their poverty and isolation.
Villagers say they were paid just £3 each for this humiliation, for a film that took around £27million at the worldwide box office in its first week of release.

Mr Tudorache, a deeply religious grandfather who lost his arm in an accident, was one of those who feels most humiliated. For one scene, a rubber sex toy in the shape of a fist was attached to the stump of his missing arm – but he had no idea what it was.

Simon Calder of UK’s Independent suggests that local Romanians should open “Borat Bar and Grill” or rename the region “Boratland”, but local villagers seem more interested in regaining their dignity. In an interview with the BBC, the town mechancic, Spiridom Ciorebea, said the film crew told villagers they would be shooting a documentary. Instead, Ciorebea was portrayed as a backward abortion-performing gynecologist.

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A year later a BBC film crew returned to Glod to produce the documentary “When Borat Came to Town” for their Storyville series. The documentary is no longer available online, but the torrent currently has five seeders and you can also download it from filesharing sites. The Daily Mail did a write-up on the documentary:

Nor was their humiliation the only issue the villagers had to contend with: in the aftermath of the film, lawyers arrived at the village promising to secure compensation for the community. Among them were the German lawyer Michael Witti, and Ed Fagan, a US attorney who helped win victims of the Holocaust a settlement of £653 million after filing lawsuits against Swiss banks that had allegedly failed to repay money stolen by the Nazis.

As BBC cameras watch, Fagan is shown at a Spiridom family meeting as Ion and Carmen vow revenge. ‘My job,’ says Fagan, ‘is to make Baron Cohen pay. I want you to mess up his life, like he messed up your life. You can kill his career.’ The lawsuit, Fagan explains, could be worth as much as £15 million.

A few months later US district judge Loretta Preska through the lawsuit out, saying that allegations were not specific enough.

No matter which Hollywood endeavour has colored your mental image of this country, it is likely more or less the same idea: gray, dreary, and backward. In fact, as I write this on the train from Bucharest to Brasov, the passing blue skies, green pastures, and colorful trees are reminescent of autumn in New England.

This is not to portray Romania through rose-colored glasses — arriving into Bucharest from the wealth and glitz of Vienna, I was overwhelmed by the poverty on the streets: the stereotypical glue-sniffing youth, the beggars, the glazed-over eyes of street-corner prostitutes, the endless, soulless stretches of Communist-era concrete apartment blocks. No, Romania is not paradise; but it is in fact much closer to the Garden of Eden than Hollywood’s disconnected caricature of vampires, zombie bureaucrats, and incestuous villagers.

Over the next week I will be posting more about the reality of Romania – as often as possibly from the mouths of Romanians themselves.

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