During the communist regime in Romania in the 1980’s, film and television from outside the country was strictly regulated, and thousands of productions were banned entirely. Many still chose to find pirated copies of foreign films with Romanian audio dubbed over the top, but for a long time there was one mysterious trait to these films: every character was dubbed with a woman’s voice – the same woman. To many, she was known only as ‘the voice.’
By the end of the regime in 1989, thousands knew her voice, but no one knew her name: Irina Margareta Nistor. Having worked as a translator for the regimes television station (where approved titles were broadcast), Nistor worked hard in her spare time, translating titles that are now estimated to be in the thousands – often without having ever seen the film beforehand.
Dictator Ceausescu regulated films coming in from the West – especially America – on the basis that he did not want Romanians to be discouraged or demoralised by the luxurious conditions in which other people around the world lived.
Nistor was drafted by film pirates in 1985, and worked flat-out to produce Romanian voice-overs until the regime ended in 1989. Over those three years of work, she blindly translated 3,000 films. It doesn’t take a mathematician to guess the incredible rate at which she worked.
One of the interviewees in a recent New York Times documentary about the woman was quoted as saying that she was ‘the most well-known voice in Romania after Ceausescu’s.”
“We didn’t ask many questions back then.”
Whether she was dubbing an action film or a romance, Nistor’s high-pitched, unaltered tones quickly became recognisable as the voice of Robert De Niro, of Chuck Norris, or Al Pacino – even if nobody would be able to name her.
She is still active in the Romanian voice-over and film industry today, hosting film festivals and television programmes about media during the communist period for television stations across Europe. A film about her work, ‘Chuck Norris vs. Communism,’ is currently in production.