Overview: In Belarus, a country bordering Ukraine and Russia, uncensored art is regarded by the government as a criminal activity and can have dire consequences, including imprisonment, life in exile, or worse. But one group of actors refuses to remain silent. In this film, director Madeleine Sackler goes behind the scenes with the Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), an internationally acclaimed underground troupe of courageous performers who, in a country choked by censorship and repression, defy Europe’s last remaining dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. This HBO Documentary Films presentation debuted MONDAY, JULY 7 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
When authorities forbid critical examination of such topics as sexual orientation, alcoholism, suicide and politics, the BFT responds by injecting these taboos into performances staged in a tiny underground space in Minsk. The troupe is unable to promote its shows or charge admission for fear of imprisonment, and audiences are summoned via text messages and advised to bring their passports in the event of a raid. Featuring smuggled cinema verité footage and uncensored interviews, DANGEROUS ACTS gives audiences a front row seat to a resistance movement unfolding on the stage and in the streets. As members of the award-winning troupe face the choice of repression at home or life in exile, the documentary affirms the belief that the power of art and hope can transcend political oppression.
Expectations: The description of this documentary intrigues this writer. It is an innovative and bold way to support or possibly lead a rebellion against a corrupt government. Using such subversive tactics to illustrate the dangers of the country, rally the people and raise global awareness in this method is striking and notable.
A few simple points need presented here to make this story clear to everyone who watches. I think a good history lesson of what is so evil in Belarus is important. Just what is this dictator doing to this country? We need to know what our leading player, the BFT, is up against in order to understand its importance here. And then we need to move into the history of the theatre troupe itself. Was it an existing theatre company that first started with legit plays and musicals and then later turn to dramatic commentary of their leader? Or did they form in secret for the specific intent to decry their state of affairs? Also, I must wonder how willingly the participants are going to reveal who they are. Who founded the troupe, who wrote the works and who performs them are really questions I’d like answered. I think I’ll be highly engrossed in this film. To help me and possibly others along here is the Trailer.
Gut Reaction: Ew, I was a bit off on my expectations, but it doesn’t matter because the way this documentary was presented was spot on; I wouldn’t change a thing. The piece does not really start way back at the beginning and explain the Lukashenko regime nor does it show the BFT’s origins. I thought it would have to do so in order to make the story clear, but the way Sackler shot and edited this work that was not the sole purpose of the film and it wasn’t needed to clarify the existence of the BFT. There is enough footage and interviews to make clear what living is like under the dictator and what the Belarus Free Theatre has done to bring attention to the situation
I was more correct in hoping for the particulars about the troupe and its cause because that is what the majority of this documentary is about. We learn of the production team and the performers; and witness portions of performances juxtaposed by imagery from newscasts about the Presidential elections and consequent protesting on the streets. The whole piece was presented so well and each moment was filled with passionate thought for a free Belarus that you lean in to catch every word.
To top off the story is an element of danger. Audiences to the theater were asked to have passports handy in case of a raid. The troupe ended up fleeing the capital city of Minsk and first fled to America where the plight of the Belarussians gained global attention. Later some returned to the homeland while others sought exile in England. The BFT, though scattered across the globe, still managed to raise awareness to the censorship, corruption and injustice happening in Belarus. It is an empowering and exciting story and by the film’s end you can only hope that the raised awareness the BFT has generated can help turn the tide and live to see the removal of the “last dictator of Europe.”
In Conclusion: It is a documentary not to be missed. It ranks for this writer as one of the best documentaries seen on HBO this year. It is told in quite an impassioned way to move any viewer towards the cause. Hell, the Belarus Free Theatre is far more effective in their performances and their story of exile and return than anything the Pussy Riot posse can come up with! It is a theatrical assault not to be ignored!
DANGEROUS ACTS STARRING THE UNSTABLE ELEMENTS OF BELARUS is directed and produced by Madeleine Sackler; executive producer, Andrea Meditch. associate producer, Leigh Johnson; edited by Anne Barliant and Leigh Johnson; original music, Wendy Blackstone; directors of photography, Daniel Carter and Larissa Kabernik. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
HBO air dates are 07.09 at 11:30am, 07.10 at 2:15pm, 07.13 at 4:15pm, 07.16 at 4:15pm, 07.19 at 10:30am and 07.25 at 4:45am and on HBOGo. For more information go to dangerousactsfilm.com.
Next Week: BOY INTERRUPTED – This documentary from 2009 chronicles the life of a 15 year old who committed suicide. This encore presentation will be reviewed next week. Look for it.