Sergej in the Urn


Charismatic, egocentric, restless … Sergei Stepanovich Chakhotin (1883-1973) was a scientist of international repute, a friend to Pavlov and Einstein, a revolutionary, an anti-fascist, a pacifist and a ladies’ man. He was married and divorced five times, and had eight sons. Sergei in the Urn tells the story of Chakhotin’s epic life through the memories of four of those sons. They talk about his role as a cancer researcher, his participation in anti-totalitarian propaganda movements, and his crusade against the arms race.

Sergei in the Urn is thus also a film about the four sons. Yet it was another focus of the film that caused a furore at international festivals: Could Sergei Chakhotin have prevented the Nazis from taking power in Germany? As a result of his experiences during the October Revolution, Chakhotin saw through the mechanisms of the Nazi party’s manipulation of the masses, and in 1931, together with Carlo Mierendorf he started a counter-campaign for the SPD in Hessen. In 1932 the SPD won the elections in Hessen, and Chakhotin was to repeat this triumph in Berlin. There however it was not understood that the fight for votes had become a psychological one, a matter of manipulating mass emotion, in which the Nazis excelled. Despite his success in Hessen, Chakhotin was branded a crank by the SPD leadership in Berlin. In 1933 the SPD lost the elections for the Reichstag. Because of his political views, Chakhotin was dismissed as microbiologist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and in the same year had to escape from Germany.

At the beginning of his search for clues, film-maker Boris Hars-Tschachotin discovers the urn containing Sergei Chakhotin‘s ashes on a shelf in his great-uncle’s living room in Paris. Driven by the desire for reconciliation, he tries to bring together his widely dispersed family, in order to at last fulfil his great-grandfather‘s last wish and lay his ashes to rest in Corsica. In doing so, the great-nephew finds himself sucked into a maelstrom of family currents in which personal destiny and political events are interwoven, in which the excruciating time of the Russian revolution pops up alongside the invention of a laser scalpel, internment in a concentration camp in France alongside commitment to the ban-the-bomb campaign.



Winner: BLM Film Award for Best German Documentary at the dokFest Munich
Nomination: Michel Mitrani-Award at the International Film Festival, Biarritz


“‘Sergei in the Urn’ is a masterpiece.”

Berliner Morgenpost


The German Federal Cultural Foundation Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg (MBB) Central German Media Fund (MDM)