Hotel Dallas, Docudrama
by Sherif Awad
From 1978 until 1991, worldwide audience was falling in love with the popular TV series Dallas that also had a great impact not only on pop culture but also on countries like Romania where it realized sociological changes. Following a successful premiere in the Berlinale last February, the documentary Hotel Dallas made it last month to the US when it got its screening in Maryland Film Festival. Written, produced and directed by New York City-based wife and husband artist duo Livia Ungur and Sherng-Lee Huang, the docudrama, in which former Dallas star Patrick Duffy aka Bobby Ewing makes an appearance, explains how the long-running series Dallas had an impact on the lives of many people including Livia herself. During the 1980s, Dallas was the only US series on Romanian television. Some have speculated that the regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu allowed it on TV in order to show the greed and corruption of American capitalism. In Romania of the 1980s, people had money but there was nothing to buy from the empty stores. Not even a candy for a little child. Families watched Dallas every evening and then we went to sleep to have their own visions of America: Big mansions, millions of Dollars and beautiful women.
Our main protagonist in Hotel Dallas is based on a real-life Romanian old man who, in the 1990s, not only styled himself after J.R. Ewing, played by the late Larry Hagman in the original Dallas, but also built the Hotel Dallas, a resort modeled after the series’ Southfork Ranch, in the southeastern Romanian city of Slobozia. In the film, the director Livia also co-stars as the daughter of the old man. Her character, also called Livia, is also obsessed with Dallas and in love with Duffy, who played Bobby Ewing on the show. Like her alter ego, the daughter moves to America, becomes an artist and ends up directing a film starring Duffy. In the film (within the film), Duffy, who also narrates the film, plays a character called Mr. Here who is a tourist visiting Romania and checking in Hotel Dallas that looks just like his home. Livia then take Mr. Here, who always pays by American Express, in a tour across the Romanian countryside.. Livia takes Mr. Here to visit her mother and some intellectual Romanian friends who explain the misconception of the western culture about Romania and how it miniaturized it into folklore stories about Transylvania and Dracula. The tour also shows us how a Romanian dubbed Larry Hagman himself cashed in on the show's cult appeal, making TV commercials for oil products in post-Communist Romania
The two directors live in New York, but they shot most of the film in Romania, in the summer of 2014. Hotel Dallas is a real place, about an hour east of Bucharest. It was built in the 90s, after communism fell. The owner, Ilie Alexandru, who called himself “the J.R. of Romania”, built this hotel that looked just like the mansion from “Dallas.” Later he went to prison for fraud. From there came the inspiration to create this film by making Livia playing a fictional Livia, the daughter of the hotel owner played by her real-life father in Hotel Dallas. True story: Before he made his appearance in Hotel Dallas, and more than once, Patrick Duffy ran over Romanian ambassadors who thanked him for what Dallas did for Romania in getting rid of communism. That's why Duffy amiably agreed to make his appearance in this very special docudrama.