Ahead of its release next month, fans can catch a sneak peek at writer-director Gabe Polsky's Red Penguins, which follows the little-known story of how the Pittsburgh Penguins' ownership group took a stake in the Central Red Army hockey team.
The trailer (above)—released Tuesday exclusively by Sports Illustrated—offers a preview of the film's examination of capitalism and opportunism run amok in Moscow. Polsky's subject, Steve Warshaw, an eccentric marketing whiz, takes viewers through the bizarre journey of a pivotal moment in U.S.-Russian relations.
Shortly after the Soviet Union's collapse, the Penguins and Red Army teamed up to show the world the possibilities of a new Russia and its famed hockey players. In 1993, Pittsburgh hired Warshaw to transform the team into the greatest show in Russia. He attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood and advertising along the way. At one point, even Disney considered capitalizing on the venture and producing a Mighty Ducks installment on the Russian-American angle.
The Red Army quickly became a popular entertainment event. Games included live bears on skates, strippers performing between periods and promotional giveaways.
"We just did what the hell we wanted there. People wanted to see the freak show, so they came," Warshaw said. "The U.S.-Russian partnership was going to be the model for the future."
However, once Hollywood and advertisers met oligarchs and the Russian mob, things quickly unraveled. The documentary explores the social and political upheavals of the era and the dangers for those involved with the team.
"It's a story about Americans going to Russia, trying to adapt and survive in a different culture–behaviors and experiences alien to them," Polsky said in a statement. "Making matters more complicated, Russia in the '90s was changing radically by the day. Still, there was a window of hope and optimism between the U.S. and Russia that has since disappeared. I wanted to explore how our two cultures relate to one another and what lies at the core of it."
Polsky also wrote, directed and produced the 2015 award-winning documentary Red Army, chronicling the rise and fall of the Soviet Union through the hockey team. He first learned of the Red Penguins' story from Warshaw, who now manages Universal Sports Marketing.
The critically acclaimed Red Penguins debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. It will be available on digital and on-demand Aug. 4.