Siberian Dream

Irina Pantaeva grew up in a family of artists and shaman during the final years of Soviet rule. Her parents both worked in the theater. At age 14, Irina was discovered and trained as a model by a local designer. Fashion was equated with capitalism and she was stigmatized by school authorities and called a prostitute. After Gorbachev came to power, she was able to fly to Moscow to find work and send money home.
Irina Pantaeva in her modeling career
In 1991, after auditioning for Pierre Cardin’s first Moscow show, Irina’s career took off, leading her to Paris then New York. Ten years later, Siberia is still close to her heart. In Siberian Dream Irina and her son, Ruslan, take us back to gain insight into their ancient Buryat-Mongol culture that resisted assimilation during the Soviet period.
Buryatia hugs the Southern border of Siberia, between northern Mongolia and Lake Baikal- the largest fresh water lake in the world. While Irina has made a name for herself on the runway and as an author, this is the first time the Buryat-Mongol story has been shared on screen. Irina’s family of artists and shaman unravel Buryatia’s hidden history as Siberian Dream celebrates their endangered Central Asian culture.
The location of Buryatia in southern Siberia
The Buryats, a nomadic Mongolian tribe
The Buryats were a nomadic Mongolian tribe, once part of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan’s empire. The Russians first came to Buryatia in 1641 and brought with them a wave of European Russian migrants. In the early years of the Russian Revolution, the region enjoyed relative autonomy and Buryat culture flourished. Traditionally Buryats practiced shamanism and in the 1700s, Tibetan Buddhism was introduced. The dark years began in 1929. Thousands of Buryat Buddhist monks were killed or sent to concentration camps during Stalin’s rule. Many shaman disappeared. Remaining Buddhists and Shaman practiced underground.
Scenes from Siberian Dream
In the film, Irina’s family describe the impact of dramatic economic reforms – glasnost and perestroika – on this region, which was closed to outsiders for more than half a century. Siberian Dream takes audiences on a journey of faith between New York and Siberia, culminating in a cleansing ritual as llamas bless her new baby. She calls him Solongo, which in Buryat means "rainbow." To her surprise, she finds a spiritual home at Tibet House in New York, a place where she can teach her children and pass along her Buddhist faith.
Production Credits
  • Janet Gardner — Producer/Director
  • Irina Pantaeva — Co-Producer/Writer
  • Kevin Cloutier — Director of Photography/Field Producer
  • Jessie Weiner — Editor
  • Nicholas Brooke — Music Consultant
  • Keith Yeager — Associate Producer
  • Zelda Fazaeli Yanovich — Assistant Producer


  • Marlene Sanders, Department of Broadcast Journalism, New York University
  • Dr. Robert Thurman, Columbia University, President of Tibet House U.S.
  • Dr. David Foglesong, Department of History, Rutgers University
  • Dr. Nicholas Brooke, Department of Music, Bennington College

This film was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The views expressed in this film are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Additional funding provided by the Women in Film Foundation’s Film Finishing Fund, the New York Council for the Humanities, Barakat, Inc., Nomadic Expeditions, and Glue Editing and Design.

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"I just took a look at the film and was mesmerized by the story. This is truly original and inspiring."

Linden Chubin, Asia Society

"This wonderful project documenting Buryat history, culture, and religion, will be of great help for any and all people interested in better understanding the peoples of Russia and Central Asia."

Dr. Robert A.F. Thurman, President, Tibet House U.S.

Character Descriptions

Irina PantaevaIrina Pantaeva tells the story of what it meant to grow up under Soviet rule, how her Buryat-Mongol language and culture were suppressed, and celebrates the cultural and religious revival now taking place.

Roland LevinRoland Levin is a Latvian emigre who fell in love with Irina, was separated from her, and the obstacles they struggled with before reuniting in America.

Ruslan PantaevaRuslan, Irina’s son, travels back to Siberia with his mother to learn more about the history and culture of the Buryats. At home in New York, he studies and composes music while attending high school.

Solongo PantaevaSolongo is Irina and Roland’s newborn baby boy. In Buryat, Solongo means ‘rainbow.’ Though they live in New York, Irina is raising her children to be familiar with their culture and heritage.

Vladlen PantaevaVladlen Pantaeva, Irina’s father, describes the restrictions imposed upon artists during Soviet times. A composer in the Buryat National Theater, he looks forward to his grandson continuing their traditions through his music.

Tatyana PantaevaTatyana Pantaeva, Irina’s mother, explains the tough times her family experienced after perestroika. During the Soviet years, she held two jobs in order to earn enough money to feed and clothe her family.

Robert ThurmanRobert Thurman is Professor of Religion at Columbia University and President of Tibet House US. In Siberian Dream, he describes the struggle of the Buryats during Soviet rule and the integration of Buddhism into their culture.

Gunchen LamaBuddhist monk, Gunchen Lama, recalls Stalin’s purges of Buddhist institutions and monks during the early days of the Soviet Union. Ivolginsk Datsan was the only monastery to survive, and it is here that he hopes to modernize his school.

Dr. Lubov AbaevaDr. Lubov Abaeva describes the nomadic culture in the days before the Russians came into their territory. As professor of anthropology at Buryat State University, she has found new pride in Buryat culture among the younger generation.

Nadja StepanovaNadja Stepanova, President of the National Society of Shamanism, performs a ritual in honor of Irina’s ancestors. She explains the significance of the ceremony and the importance of this ceremony for Irina and her family.

Elena MaduevaElena Madueva, a farmer in the village of Korsakovo, relates her memories of the collective farms. She describes how, with the implementation of perestroika, they lost everything they had worked so hard for almost overnight.

Alexandr MaduevAlexandr Maduev, Elena’s husband, is a Shaman. He explains how Stalin rid Buryatia of Shamans and prohibited their religion. "We used to be poor," he says, "and we are still poor."

Larissa DagdanovaAs a designer, Larissa Dagdanova chose Irina to model for her clothing collection when she was a schoolgirl. Under communism, fashion was seen as promoting capitalism. Today, she runs a thriving fasion house.

The teacherThe teacher in Siberian Dream reflects Irina’s memories as a schoolgirl. Her conversation inside and outside the classroom represents just one of the many methods of Russification the Buryats were subjected to

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