KGB Use of the Soviet Film Industry: The Spy Movie The White Boat (Tallinnfilm, 1970)

Ivo Juurvee (University of Tartu)

Academic research on the role of the KGB in the Soviet propaganda apparatus has mostly concentrated on its efforts against Western countries.  This paper examines KGB involvement in film production for the Soviet domestic market.  Using surviving production documentation on the film Valge laev (“The White Boat”), other available archival sources, and memoirs and interviews of the film crew, this paper seeks to answer the following questions: What were KGB objectives?  How was KGB direction of production process practically organized?  Were the objectives met?

Made by the Estonian SSR film company Tallinnfilm in 1969-1970, “The White Boat” differed in one aspect from other Soviet movies—most of it was film in Stockholm.  The story follows a group of Estonian youth who, under influence of Western propaganda (mainly Voice of America broadcasts), make the decision to flee to Sweden.  In Stockholm they meet members of the Estonian diaspora and are used for purposes of anti-Soviet propaganda until a bold KGB operation saves the situation.

The film was a rather swift reaction to the Prague Spring of 1968—part of measures taken by the KGB to avoid anything of the kind happening in the USSR.  Even before the director was chosen, Tallinnfilm hired a consultant for the movie, and individual who appeared to be the head of the Second Department (counterintelligence) of the Estonian SSR KGB. In its description of the Estonian diaspora, the film’s scenario copied from the KGB handbook.  While the film’s primary target audience was Estonian youth, its impact on them was dubious.  The film was intended to discredit the Estonian diaspora and the Voice of America, but it also revealed that the living standard in Sweden was obviously much higher than in Soviet Estonia.

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