Automat Kalashnikov
writers/directors   Axel Engstfeld / Herbert Habersack
camera Wolfgang Thaler, Hans Jakobi, Bernd Mosblech
sound Csaba Kulcsar, Robert Wisniewski
editor   Jean-Marc Lesguillons
length   52' and 95´10
format 35mm
premier Dokumentarfilmfestival München 2000, theatrical release in Germany
broadcasted 2000 ARTE/ORF, 2001 WDR
co-producers Adi Mayer Film, Wien/Kalamazoo, Paris/d-network, Melbourne
The portrait of a weapon which, unlike any other, has become the embodiment of a global political idea: AK47 is synonymous with armed struggle and battles for "liberation from imperialist suppression" all over the world. Its very name conjures up images of freedom fighters, guerillas, revolutionaries,terrorists, mercenaries and "People's Liberation Armies". But at the end of the 20th Century, the complex idea of large-scale world revolution has crumbled.

Today over 70 million of these easy-to-handle and relatively cheap automatic weapons are available on the global market, making the deadly reliability of the AK47 within easy reach of just about anyone.

AUTOMAT KALASHNIKOV links the parallel stories of the secret life of AK47 designer and inventor, Michail T. Kalaschnikov, with guerillas fighting with AK47s and criminals for whom the AK47 is increasingly the weapon of choice. From the small quiet town in the Urals where Kalaschnikov still lives on his modest $50/month pension, to the hills of Afghanistan and the hide-outs of Mujaheddin guerillas, to the streets of Los Angeles where the police often find themselves 'out armed' by gangsters boasting the firepower of AK47s.

AUTOMAT KALASHNIKOV is the extraordinary story of one man and the lasting legacy of his deadly creation.

Kalashnikov's Biography

The life of Michail Timofejewitsch Kalashnikov, (born on November 10, 1919, in a small village in the Altai Mountains) is the blueprint of a Russian career: of simple, rural and proletarian decent, an elementary school education and a fierce and naive interest in technology and experimenting.

His fascination with technology leads first to a job in 1936 with the Turkestan-Siberia railway and then one for the Red Army in 1938. In the Red Army, the technology obsessed soldier draws attention to himself with a cleverly constructed fuel gauge for tanks and soon becomes technical secretary of a military arms factory in Leningrad.

In 1941, the beginning of the war against Nazi Germany he is a tank commander and gets wounded by a German grenade splinter in the fall of the same year. He spends many months at a field hospital during which time he makes intense study of specialized literature on technology and manufacturing economics of automatic weapons. It is not long before the military agencies, realizing Kalashnikov's potential, put at his disposal all he needs in order to perfect his constructions.

In 1947 his Automat Kalashnikov is approved to become the official army assault rifle AK47. The young designer is then relocated to Ischewsk, the isolated and secret center of the Soviet weapons industry. In the following decades as chief engineer he experiences the schizophrenia of being a bearer of many State secrets: everyone knows his name, but nobody, not even his neighbors are allowed to identify him as the person carrying that name. He is highly decorated and well respected, but remains a ghost. Not until he is retired does he experience a "physical re-birth".

Today, he lives quite modestly in a bleak apartment complex. To this day million dollar deals are made with his inventions, but he himself lives on a pension of the equivalent of 50 US dollars. His own nephew is a weapons dealer. Once in a while his son, also a weapons designer, visits him.

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