The Gulag Museum

The Gulag Museum

Screenplay by Alan Nafzger (129 pages)

LOG-LINE #1: The closure of a Stalin-era Gulag museum in Siberia raises specters of the past in a remote village.

LOG-LINE #2: In the shadow of the closing of Russia’s last gulag museum, one village examines the loss. When it is announced that the Oymyakon Memorial Center of the History of Political Repression will be closing, things are clear to the people directly effected. Television journalists stoke the fire of controversy. They orchestrate a television debate. Many villagers question whether the decision to close the museum is related to the new ideological tendency to rehabilitate the Stalin era. The regional administration claims they only want to save money. Many villagers are caught in the middle of the dispute.

gulag museum screenplay
Gulag Nuseum

SETTING: East of Moscow about 4800 miles east of Moscow, is the fictional village of Oymyakon. A few minutes west of the village stands the remains of Oymyakon-36 , the only gulag in Russia that formally and officially accepted visitors. At Oymyakon-36, visitors have been able to tour the buildings where prisoners once lived and died.  Thousands visit the gulag museum each year. It is the village’s chief source of revenue.

OPENING SCENE: The film begins with the controversy of restoring Stalin’s name to cities, streets and squares, and even of erecting monuments to him comes. We see the massive sales of calendars with Stalin on them and other souvenirs related to the dictator. This trend is opposed by few.


The isolated rural villagers, who one might suspect are sympathetic to Stalinism, are progressive and actually enlightened human rights supporters. The people from cities, who are bussed into the city to appear on television, aren’t progressive. The urbanites are near newspapers, universities and libraries but they are the Stalinists.


Martin Eisenhower – An American History professor has arranged for a guided tour of Oymyakon-36 in English from the gulag museum’s office in Novosibirsk. He pays $50, but arrives to find the gates closes and locked. He finds romance with a local woman and elects to take a sabbatical from his teaching job.

Yuliya Gagolin – The most beautiful woman in the village and also the most opinionated.

Eduard Avdonin – A young bureaucrat is left in charge of keeping the museum gates closed; he is an innocent, regional government employee. He has been sent from the Novosibirsk to handle the matter. He is the proverbial “teapot in a tempest” (sic). He is a quiet man and hates the controversy.  He dislikes being caught in the middle of political strife. He would quit his job but he has no other prospects and a wife and child to support.

Anya Gagolin – The group Memorial, which has been researching the history of political repression in the USSR for many years and holds competitions for high school students in historical research. They award a young Oymyakon high school student for her essay on the village’s political situation. She is smart and questions ever assertion injected into the debate. Her mentor is the visiting American professor. She is the daughter of Yuliya.

Trofim Vetrov – The group Memorial also sends a spokesperson and community organizer to the city. He is from Moscow. Before this controversy, he has been working on an initiative titled “The Last Address”. He has been traveling around Russia putting up memorial plaques on the houses of those who were illegally repressed in the gulags.

Numerous villagers – The local population, despite being isolated, see themselves as progressive. Living in the shadow of the former prison and basically only coming into contact with people willing enough to travel huge distances to visit the place. The villages pub is a tavern of free and open debate. The visitors to the city for 20 years (1994 to 2014) have all had an eye on history. And despite the ideology politics of the museum, the economic impact on the city will be felt by many. They have an economic interest in keeping the museum open, but they have essentially been  witnesses to the history that took place there.

Sergei Dvornikov – A famous human rights defender, who was imprisoned in the camp, arrives in the village when he learns that the prison camp has been closed.

Tatyana Shmirov and Viktor Kursina – The two organizers of the museum have been fired. They have been government employees but after a series of unsuccessful attempts to restore the status quo, they form a non-governmental organization Oymyakon-36. In the dead of the night, they collect all of its property – literally all of the museum’s collections.

Kirill Yenin – Regional governor and closet Stalinist.  After a healthy and prolonged public outcry, the regional government first claims to the journalists that the work of the museum will continue but under new leadership. Nothing happens; they have only been hoping the issue would go away. But people don’t forget and finally the regional government capitulates and announce the exhibitions about the history of the gulag will be restored.  When the museum does reopen, they don’t even miss the removed artifacts; the majority of the exhibits are now dedicated to the Romanov prison camps. Only a small part of the re-organized museum is dedicated to the Stalin years.

Leonid Zhvikov – The former camp warden, still living in the area, mocks the townspeople. “Some striped robes, some sort of shackles, some boots from who knows where, some kind of barbed wire, some stainless steel bowls… And then they talk that nonsense about how people were killed, perished, and so on.”

Maxim Kovalyov – A television personality arrives in the village to profit from the uproar. He plans to flame debate and televise the controversy. To set up a village townhall meeting, he selects for a TV interview anyone who will speak warmly of the period of Stalin’s rule. Few of the villagers are selected to speak on the news. The television network transports Stalinist sympathizers to the city for a broadcast. The outsiders publicly accuse the museum of pro-American politics and the distortion of history. They have a pattern of referring to the false testimony of the former employees of the colony.  Kovalyov isn’t a Stalinists but knows how to create a controversy.

Numerous Stalinists – To create some clash and drama for the television broadcast many Stalinist are bussed into the village for the program. These outsiders while recognizing that mass repressions certainly took place, they are confident nonetheless that the “strong arm” of the authorities guarantees order in the country. Some deny they took place.

Stepan Ivashov and Ruslan Kazakov – A group of young men, technology savy and computer hackers. They plan to highjack the television truck and take over the broadcast the last five-minutes. The plan is to interrupt the discussion and show pictures and footage of the gulag system.

Cameo Appearances – Ideal would be cameo appearances of Russia’s best known musicians, artists, actors. The museum in the past has acquired notoriety throughout Russia with its annual festival, which attracted leading musicians, artists, actors, and human rights workers. The regional government has ended the funding for this event; the gathering will probably be canceled. Celebrities are there in the village to protest the loss of the festival.

OTHERS –  Many archetypes of Soviet life are there. A hard, severely-dressed female communist party official. A glamorously high-heeled meat market director. The despairing wife of a “loser”, someone who is always the first to be overlooked. An eminent professor whom life has taught to be careful with the authorities. The son of a big nomenklatura official, languid and decadent. A Second World War veteran, who suddenly and painfully realizes that, while he had thought nothing of fightning behind German military lines, he is now afraid to say a word against the bigwigs of the garage cooperative. A single mother, tiny, slight and fragile who dares to raise her voice for justice. A soviet “little man” with a scarf round his neck. Because of a bad cold, he has lost his voice, but this does not prevent him from standing up. And a voiceless (here literally, because of his cold, as well as, of course, metaphorically), unremarkable little man, who suddenly finds himself incapable of tolerating the unfairness and rises up against it.


Thanks to the inept regional government and the greed of the television network, the issue of the museum becomes a national political issue. Stalin seems to be on every Russian’s mind; he is issue of the week for the media. When the President of Russia (trying to remain neutral) remarks that, “the Russian people should hear a full and comprehensive debate”, the television executives organize a nationally televised live debate from the site of the prison.

The night of the townhall meeting is calm. Everyone puts on their best clothes, and for 55 minutes of live television, everyone is civil. However, only five minutes short of a competed broadcast the emotions erupt. On live television, there is a bloody and ugly fist fight. Weapons are discharged into the air and fighting continues. The young men have taken over the television truck and when the fight erupts, they sit in awe and finally run away. Much of the fight is broadcast to all of Russia.

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