Dangerous Acts: Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus
The Republic of Belarus under the authoritarian rule of its president Alexander Lukashenko has been dubbed “the last dictatorship in Europe”. The statue of Lenin standing outside the parliamentary building in Minsk has not been dismantled, and looks unlikely to be so under the present regime. Dissent is dealt with brutally. In the wake of the last (fraudulent) election held in December 2010, for example, the opposition leader Andrei Sannikov was arrested and imprisoned for five years. Sannikov and his charming wife make a dignified appearance (prior to being jailed) in Madeleine Sackler’s edgy documentary about the Belarus Free Theatre, an experimental acting troupe that played a prominent part in protesting the irregularity of the 2010 election, and were forced into exile for doing so. Refugees in the West, they continue to campaign against the injustices meted out by their country’s government, but all of them want to return, and long for the time when they can do so.
Made over a number of years (including the years before exile), the film takes us behind the scenes into the personal and domestic lives of the troupe’s main protagonists. And very sympathetic they prove to be. None of them is strident or self-pitying. All of them are articulate, as one would expect, yet also courageous and humorous. Their stage performances, from which we see extensive extracts, belong to the tradition of protest theatre, but with little of the dreariness and self-justifying rhetoric that can sometimes be associated with that genre. On the contrary, the staging of different pieces is extraordinarily elegant and beautiful. Among other qualities, Sackler’s documentary provides a rich illustration of the simplicity and inventiveness of contemporary experimental theatre at its best.
Madeleine Sackler is a director, producer, and co-founder of Osmosis Films, a new media firm in New York. After completing her degree in biopsychology, she worked as a freelance writer in television, advertising, and for various documentary films. As a follow-up to her much-discussed debut film The Lottery (2010), she directed Duke 91&92: Back to Back (2012) as well as Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (2013).