Film of Red Palette Pictures


Black Russians: The Red Experience is a feature-length documentary revealing a surprising twist in the history of the racism that infected the USA in the early 20th century. Never previously told in film format, it is the little-known story of how a number of black professionals, held back purely by color prejudice, turned their backs on segregation and violence and sought a better life in the most unlikely of places – Stalin's USSR. They left their homeland to pursue their dreams.

Discovering a different world where blacks with skills and education were welcomed and valued as important participants in helping to build the fledgling communist society, some of them stayed while others returned to the USA, carrying their vision with them. Their experiences fed into the civil rights movement and provided Martin Luther King with the substance for his famous speech "I have a dream…"

The story is explored through the lives and experiences of a number of those individual and their families. Their descendants live in both Russia and America today and the film also explores how they were affected by the Cold War and the rise of post-communist nationalism.

The film brings the history right up to date as the living descendants reveal how these events have shaped the way they live their life today and how it compares to the dreams of their parents and grandparents.

In particular, the film focuses on two living descendants. Yelena Khanga is a well-known Russian TV journalist who has published two books in the USA about her journey to discover her roots in black slavery. Her grandfather, originally from Mississippi, helped the Soviet Union to modernize its cotton industry. Wayland Rudd is a Moscow-based jazz singer whose seven children by different women has frequently attracted the attention of the Russian tabloid newspapers. His father moved from the USA to the USSR and became a 1930s movie star.

Leading academics in the field in both the USA and Russia together with a number of well-known black personalities set the story in context and explain what was happening.

The film is about dreams and dreamers – those who believed they and their families deserved a life better than lynching and segregation. Those who stayed in the USSR never looked back and believed in these ideals for the rest of their lives. Some of their descendants tell a different story.

Black Russians: The Red Experience, a story waiting to be told, shows how people making difficult choices and facing the unknown, driven by their dreams, can live inspirational lives and change the world.


Production Team

Filming Black Russians in Moscow


Sam Pollard more »
Sam Pollard

SAM POLLARD is a prominent feature film and television and documentary producer/director and editor whose work spans almost thirty years. He recently served as Producer and Supervising Editor on the Spike Lee directed HBO documentary If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise, a five year follow up to the Emmy and Peabody award winning When The Levees Broke. His first assignment as a documentary producer came in 1989 for Henry Hampton's Blackside production Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads. For one of his episodes in this series, he received an Emmy. Eight years later, he returned to Blackside as Co-Executive Producer/Producer of Hampton's last documentary series I'll Make Me A World: Stories of African-American Artists and Community. For the series, Mr. Pollard received The George Peabody Award. Between 1990 and 2010, Mr. Pollard edited a number of Spike Lee's films: Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers, and Bamboozled. As well, Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lee co-produced a number of documentary productions for the small and big screen:Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson, a biographical sketch for HBO for which Mr. Pollard received an Emmy, Four Little Girls, a feature-length documentary about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings which was nominated for an Academy Award and When The Levees Broke, a four part documentary that won numerous awards, including a Peabody and three Emmy Awards. Mr. Pollard recently completed as a producer/director Slavery By Another Name a 90-minute documentary for PBS that was in competition at the Sundance Festival in 2012 and also just completed editing the feature length documentary Venus and Serena.


Chris Hastings


Yelena Demikovsky more »

Award-winning documentary and narrative filmmaker with a broad theatre background, Yelena Demikovsky grew up in Russia during the Cold War. After getting her Master's degree at Moscow Theatre Academy, she was offered an Associate Professor position at the same academy where she taught acting and directing.

Yelena moved to America in 1992 and went to Emerson College in Boston, MA where she got her second Master's in Communication, TV and Video production. She made her first documentary on the history of Orthodox Church in America while still in Boston and the film went to distribution.

After moving to New York in 1995 she directed plays in various theatres and then moved on to mostly dedicating herself to film. She directed a few award-winning documentaries and short narratives and has been writing scripts.

Demikovsky has produced two symposia on ballet star Rudolf Nureyev — one in New York (1997), the other in St. Petersburg, Russia (1998). She also contributed interviews and translations to four authors of Nureyev biographies.

Director of Development

Robert King more »
Robert King

Emmy and Peabody award-winning producer Robert J. King grew up in Portland, Oregon. After graduating from The University of Oregon, he relocated to Los Angeles and began to work at Dick Clark Productions ("American Bandstand" and several award winning shows). He produced several short films, including "Tanto Tiempo" (Universal Studios), music videos, and projects with top-tiered industry talent such as Henry Mancini, Chuck Mangione and Maynard Ferguson.

He is most proud of the film "Door to Door", which he co-executive produced with Forest Whitaker. The project, which starred William H. Macy, Helen Mirren and Kyra Sedgwick, garnered seven Emmys, a Peabody, a Producers Guild of America award, an AFI Top 10 TV Films award, and a Broadcast Critics Choice Award.


Piero Basso (New York) more »
Piero Basso

Born and raised in northern Italy, Piero studied Cinema and Art Studies at the University of Turin. There he developed a deep interest in visual storytelling. Piero began building a career as a director of photography while also working as a Steadicam operator. He photographed a number of award winning films and documentaries as well as four feature films and several shorts.

After moving to New York in 2008, Piero has worked on numerous projects including documentaries and narratives. He is now a part of several projects with Red Palette Pictures. In addition, he teaches at the New York Film Academy.

Miko Malkhasyan (New York) more »
>Miko Malkhasyan

Miko is from Armenia where he received his BA from the Film Department at the Abovyan State Pedagogical Institute in Yerevan. Getting his start as a freelance cameraman, Miko displays his artistry through various types of camerawork. In 2009, he was Lecturer of Cinematography at the Yerevan State Institute of Theatre and Film.

Additionally, Miko has participated in more than eight documentaries, nine feature films, and one hundred music videos and commercials, and pop, classic and folk concerts —many of which have earned him awards and some of which will be sampled in his upcoming reel.

Miko joined the Red Palette Pictures team in 2012 and has been participating in Then Comes The Glory and Black Russians documentaries as a DP-Camera operator, and working as a DP on yet another work-in-progress with New York musicians, tentatively called "Peace Project."

Yulia Galochkina (Moscow) more »
Yulia Galochkina

Born in the city of Samara, Yulia Galochkina works as Director of Photography in Moscow. As a winner of numerous competitions, she has been presenting her work throughout Russia and abroad. In 2002, she began as a film student at the Russian State Institute of Cinematography, with Professor V. I. Yusov's studio, and graduated with honor. As a cinematographer, she has made twenty documentaries; many of them won prizes at film festivals in Russia and abroad. She works with multiple cameras, also filming concerts of different performers in both popular and classical fields. In addition to that, she has been working on video commercials, and she is a professional colorist (Lustre software).

Editor/Line Producer

Susan Fanshel more »
Susan FanshelSusan Fanshel is an independent documentary filmmaker and editor whose award-winning films include: A Weave of Time, The Story of a Navajo Family; Nevelson in Process; Voulkos and Company; Made in the Bronx; Six American Families: The Kennedy's of New Mexico; and The Odyssey Tapes. The films she has edited have received the highest honors in broadcast journalism including: The George Foster Peabody Award (3); Alfred Du Pont-Columbia Award (2); The Emmy Award (2); The John O'Conner Film Award; and The Banff World Television Award. Fanshel began her career in the San Francisco Bay Area after graduating from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Fine Art. She currently resides in New York City.


Nigel Edwards more »
Nigel Edwards

An Oxford University MA and an award-winning documentary maker, Nigel is a former journalist and broadcaster living in the UK who now devotes his time to writting and research. Starting his career in newspapers and rising to editor, he spent several years in radio and was a senior news producer with the BBC, responsible for creating and presenting hundreds of live current affairs and political programs. He won the BP Arts Journalist of the Year award for a documentary on the composer Edward Elger and Sony Radio Award for Best Breakfast Program. Throughout his career he has always been a campaigner for equality, justice, and fair treatment.

Project Assistants

Melissa Espinosa
Oskar Peakock
Johnny Lluberes
Nancy Sifton more »
Nancy Sifton

A native of Detroit, Michigan, Nancy has worked with Yelena Demikovsky since 1997, assisting with the first Rudolf Nureyev Symposium in New York and in 1998 with the St. Petersburg, Russia symposium.

She served as Project Assistant on The Story Of Fenist, and has provided administrative assistance for numerous projects at Red Palette Pictures. Nancy completed her Certificate in Arts Administration from New York University and has written reviews for several publications and is a regular contributor to


Pr. Maxim Matusevich (Seton Hall University) more »

Maxim Matusevich is an Associate Professor of Global History at Seton Hall University where he also directs the Russian and East European Studies Program. Pr. Matusevich is the author of No Easy Row for a Russian Hoe: Ideology and Pragmatism in Nigerian-Soviet Relations, 1960-1991 (Africa World Press, 2003) and editor of Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: Three Centuries of Encounters (Africa World Press, 2007). He has published extensively on the history of Russian-African ties and the history of African-American travel in the Soviet Union. Pr. Matusevich has been awarded a number of prestigious grants and research fellowships, including the Fulbright Grant, the National Endowment for Humanities Fellowship, the Kennan Institute residential fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute residential fellowship (Harvard University), and others. His current research focuses on the history of socialist mobility during the Cold War as well as the history of African-American political and cultural engagement with the Soviet Union.

Clarence Steinberg more »
Clarence Steinberg

Clarence Steinberg, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. in medieval and Renaissance English language and literature, published scholarly articles in Neuphilologische Mitteilungen and co-authored Jewish Farmers of the Catskills, Florida Universities Press, 1995.

He was a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture applying a penchant for researching data for speeches given by the agency’s higher officials.

Marlaina Martin more »

Marlaina is a recent Brown University graduate working on her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology. Previous research internships were with the Center for Urban Community Services, the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, the Providence Children's Museum, coLab Arts, and the Cortes Foundation. Marlaina has traveled extensively, including trips to Mali, West Africa, and Gozo, Malta, where she conducted research for her senior thesis.

Dr. Melissa T. Smith more »
Dr. Melissa T. Smith

Dr. Melissa T. Smith is Professor of Russian Language, Literature, and Culture in the Department of Foreign Languages at Youngstown State University. She has traveled to Russia over 30 times with student groups and on research projects involving study of contemporary theater and women's dramaturgy.

As a person considered bilingual and bicultural, she attempts to expand student and community perspectives through involvements in classroom, travel, theater, and other extracurricular language and cultural projects. She has been a frequent contributor to Red Palette Pictures productions and currently teaches a course on Foreign Film Studies.


Sara Martinez more »
Sara  Martinez

Equadorian Sara Martinez is a graduate of Pratt Institute's Film and Media Arts Program and is a photographer.

Sara has a fundamental artistic interest in many aspects of still and moving imagery and is committed to working with Red Palette Pictures in their mission.

Sara is involved in various administrative and creative tasks.

Jacquelyn Christie more »

Jacquelyn, currently a student at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, has experience in journalism, theatre, and sociology. At 17, she interviewed Barak Obama during the 2008 Presidential election.

Melissa Espinosa

Advisory Board

Project Advisory Board and Supporting Institutions »


Interview setupInterview with Carola Burroughs, a granddaughter of Williana Burroughs, New York, 2012
Black Russians filmingWayland Rudd, Jr. is having breakfast at the cafe in Moscow, 2012
Black Russians filmingInterview with Yelena Khanga, a granddaughter of Oliver Golden and Bertha Bialek, Moscow, 2012