The Black Tulip

Directed by Bruce “Pacho” Lane
(26 minutes)

blacktul mom

“Even The Dead Are a Small Part Of Your Happiness…”

The Black Tulip is what the “Afgantsi” – the Soviet soldiers who fought in Afghanistan – call the plane that carried the bodies back to the Soviet Union. Opening at a Soviet army base in Kabul, the film visits an attack helicopter squadron, a firebase outside Kabul, and a guardpost near Kandahar. Then the film moves to the monument to the war dead of WWII beside the Kremlin wall, to a Moscow cemetery filled with dead from the Afghan war, and finally, to the heartbreak of a mother of one of the dead soldiers.

The film was shot in 1987, in collaboration with Novosti Press Agency. In 1988 the completed program aired on PBS and 15 other networks around the world, and was widely distributed in the underground video market in the USSR and East Europe, where it played a very small part in the collapse of the Soviet system….

While the Soviet intervention in the Afghan civil war is now history, The Black Tulip transcends the particular to become a moving meditation on the costs and sorrow of all wars.

TV: US (PBS), UK (Ch. 4), Japan (NHK), Spain (RTE), Australia, etc.

In Afghanistan

I Will Always Protect You


Order the DVD

“The Black Tulip” & “Inside Afghanistan” are available on a single DVD,
playable on all Region 1 (US & Canada) & Multiregion DVD players.

ISBN: 978-1-891813-52-8
UPC: 736899375133

How This Film Came To Be Made

THE BLACK TULIP” is a 27′ meditation on the costs of war – in this case, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. I shot in Super-16 in the Fall of1987 in Kabul, Kandahar, Tashkent, and Moscow. The only complete film by a Western journalist on the Soviet side of the war, it includes a visit to a Soviet army base in Kabul, the attack helicopter support group at Kabul airport, a firefight at a Soviet firebase outside Kabul, and an outpost near Kandahar. In Moscow, there is a visit to the tomb of the Unknown Solder and to a cemetery with the graves of Russian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The program concludes with a moving interview with the mother of one of the dead soldiers.

The film aired on PBS in 1988, and on theTV networks of 22 other countries, including the UK, Japan, Spain, Australia, France, Italy – and Russia. For Western audiences, my message was – and is – that Russians are human, that they love and grieve just as Americans or Italians do. This may seem obvious now, but in 1988, believe it or not, it came as a real surprise to American audiences. For many, it was the first time they had seen Russian soldiers as real human beings, instead of as The Enemy.

Unaccustomed to reading between the lines, Westerners miss many of the subtexts of the film. “THE BLACK TULIP” is actually the name given by the Russian soldiers to the cargo plane that carried the bodies back to the Soviet Union for burial. To call the film by that name, and to include the song about the Black Tulip in the film, made clear to Soviet audiences that the film was critical of the Afghan intervention. In 1988 I had an opportunity to show the film to an auditorium full of Soviet and Eastern European journalists. I will never forget the powerful impression the film made on them: first that it could have been made at all, and second that the film compared Afghanistan unfavorably with World War II – an untouchable subject in those days.

The scars of the Afghan war continue for the Russians. Not only was the Soviet experience in Afghanistan a key factor in Gorbachev’s “Second Russian Revolution”, it shaped the outlook and careers of a generation of such Russians as Alexander Lebed. Although made with the full cooperation of the Novosti Press Agency – the most committed supporters of glasnost – THE BLACK TULIP was not shown officially in the Soviet Union until after its collapse, because it was too critical. However, it was widely distributed (apparently by Novosti) in the underground *Samizdat” (‘self-published’) market, and influenced the increasing alienation of Russians from their Afghan adventure.

I have showed the film to many audiences since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While in one sense the film is “out of date” because history has changed so dramatically since then, I am always surprised at how deeply moved the audience is by the film. There is something about THE BLACK TULIP that transcends the particular historical moment – it is the story of every son who died for pointless ideals, and every mother who sorrows for him…