Il documentario di Madeleine Sackler Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus è dedicato al Free Belarus Theatre. Girato in condizioni difficilissime per eludere la censura (indispensabile è stato Skype)
Gli attori del “Teatro Libero della Bielorussia” sono stati costretti a fuggire sotto falso nome dal loro Paese, sono approdati a New York dove il loro Zone of silencesi è guadagnato una recensione entusiastica dal «New York Times». Alcuni di loro hanno poi deciso di tornare in Bielorussia per stare vicino ai propri cari. Altri hanno scelto la Gran Bretagna, dove hanno chiesto e ottenuto asilo politico.
Avrete già capito che i Dangerous Acts del Free Belarus Theatre andavano raccontati. Il teatro, fondato da Nikolai Khalezin e Natalia Koliada, a cui si è aggiunta la personalità portante di Vladimir Shcherban, ha lottato nella e contro l'unica dittatura formale e sostanziale rimasta in Europa. Di cui poco si parla, in buona e mala fede. La censura e la repressione violenta di diritti civili fondamentali quali la libertà di parola e di manifestazione hanno reso durissima e rischiosa la vita di artisti che hanno deciso di denunciare le torture e la riduzione al silenzio del popolo bielorusso in Being Harold Pinter, e di trattare argomenti tabù, dall'identità di genere al suicidio.
Nel suo Paese, la compagnia, nata nel 2010, rappresentava i propri spettacoli in semi-clandestinità, in stanze minuscole ma gremite di pubblico. Pubblico non pagante. Illegale vendere biglietti per teatri non riconosciuti da uno Stato governato da un KGB in gran forma e dall'Andrei Lukashenko che, dopo 16 anni di regime, nel 2011 è stato riconfermato Presidente della Bielorussia dopo elezioni palesemente truccate. Le manifestazioni pacifiche di protesta seguite al voto-farsa sono state represse con una brutalità e una violenza arroganti, che hanno comportato centinaia di arresti e l'emanazione di una legge che vieta l'esistenza di associazioni partitiche. Gira una barzelletta amara, nello Stato slavo. Qualcuno dice a Lukashenko: «C'è una buona e una cattiva notizia. La buona è che hai vinto le elezioni. La cattiva è che nessuno ti ha votato».
Gli attori del Free Belarus Theatre, coi loro spettacoli capaci di coniugare allegoria e impatto emotivo viscerale, intendono denunciare la situazione bielorussa. «Le cicatrici rendono gli uomini più belli. In questo Minsk è la città più sexy del mondo»: questo dicono e rappresentano sulle scene. Per urgenza di mostrare cosa accade in uno Stato europeo dimenticato dall'Europa e per mantenersi vivi. Anche in esilio, dove «devi pensare a vivere, non a quello che vuoi fare nella vita».
Dangerous Acts Starring The Unstable Elements of Belarus ha il merito di riuscire a comunicare le emozioni e il senso di quella corda tesa di resistenza che è la vita degli attori del Free Belarus Theatre. Non c'è suspense. Non serve. L'orrore è lì, in ogni fotogramma, potente e crudo come il dolore e la forza che spingono alla lotta, come l'ostinazione coraggiosa che non sa e non può cedere.
Grazie dunque a Madeleine Sackler, che accende i riflettori su un angolo d'Europa dimenticato o ignorato e su un'esperienza artistica alimentata da vissuti esistenziali potenti capaci di insegnare e ispirare.
How much would you sacrifice for the sake of art? That’s a question Belarus Free Theatre faces every day, as depicted in Madeleine Sackler’s documentary. Performing political theatre in Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, they’re subject to government restrictions forcing them to work outside official avenues. Performances are promoted with the secrecy of an undercover operation and police raids are frequent. Amidst the sham presidential election of 2010 and the subsequent protests against the country’s unlawful leader Alexander Lukashenko, the documentary follows several members of the group and the personal price they pay for defying the regime.
The individual stories are harrowing. A particularly tough moment occurs early in the film, when actor Oleg performs a monologue about his young son’s suicide. The rest of the group’s hardships are equally as gruelling, but there’s something inspirational here too. Art isn’t an abstract concept for these people- it’s a way of life, a cause to defend and just about the only voice they have. Unfortunately, that only comes across fitfully over the brief running time. Sackler doesn’t have enough space to unfurl both the internal dramas of the players and the broader political facts of Belarusian life, and so this ends up resembling a slightly superficial overview. The group’s polemic demands a nitty-gritty approach and deserves better than the montage of celebrity endorsements the director ends on.
However, as an introduction to Belarus Free Theatre, Dangerous Acts is worthy. Though there’s no real conclusion, that’s as it should be- they continue to perform under adverse circumstances, with no end in sight to Lukashenko’s reign. It can’t match the angry power of the group’s productions, but given their fraught existence, it’s at least something that they’ve been documented.
Condoleezza Rice has called it an outpost of tyranny; the UN says it is habitual violator of international human-rights laws; yet the situation in Belarus rarely makes the news. Some may recall the mass protests at the end of 2010, when people spilled out into the streets following an election widely deemed to have been rigged, but they may not realise that those protests resulted in no political gains whatsoever. If you were to visit today, you would find a country little changed since its Soviet days.
In this country. which has neither the natural resources nor the strategic location to attract international intervention, people know that if anything is to change they will have to do it themselves. Having lived under President Alexander Lukashenko for 20 years, it's hard for many Belarussians to imagine anything different. It's easy to live in a dictatorship, they say. There's no need to think. But every society has its unstable elements, and the Unstable Elements of Belarus are fighting back through theatre.
Madeleine Sackler's documentary, much of which was filmed secretly and then smuggled out of the country, follows the troupe over several difficult months as they seek to spark conversations routinely silenced by state media. Although they're not actually breaking any laws, the security police are omnipresent and it's not long before they start to find themselves in serious trouble. There is talk of disappearances, of beatings, rape and torture. People come and go from prison. It emerges that some of them may be forced to flee the country, leaving parents and children behind.
Clips of the performances the Unstable Elements put on show that they have real talent and put across the forcefulness of their feelings about the situation in a way simple interviews never could. We see them celebrated in New York and at the Edinburgh Fringe, but at home they can't even charge for their performances and they struggle to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the influence of their work is clear. It contributes to a changing climate, where dangerous ideas spread around the country in whispers. Obscure forms of protest emerge, rattling the authorities. Might they, one day, lead to real change?
Depicting the intellectual fire and fierce determination essential to revolution, Dangerous Acts pits the pen against the sword in an old story made fresh by the fact it's so immediate to those involved. Sometimes a subject as big as this can overwhelm a documentary, but Sackler does a good job of maintaining perspective and thereby maintaining impact. The result is a powerful piece of work that reminds us why art matters.
In Dangerous Acts StarringThe Unstable Elements Of Belarus (2013)Madeleine Sackler documents a year in the life of the Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), an acclaimed theatrical troupe forced to work underground in their native country. President Lukashenko, often dubbed Europe’s last remaining dictator, has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for the past twenty years. Free expression is suppressed and dissidents are frequently harassed or imprisoned.
As all the theatres are state owned, BFT has, since its founding in 2005, created secret performances that explore issues deemed sensitive by the state. As well as politics these include suicide, sexual orientation and alcoholism. The group is denied a government license and charging for admission is therefore deemed “illegal economic activity”. Most members of BFT have suffered for their art. They have been detained, harassed, lost their jobs in state theatre or been denied the opportunity to work elsewhere.
Beginning in 2010, Sackler records the performers’ dismay as President Lukashenko wins another term in power and their differing fates in the bitter crackdown that followed the rigged elections. Fearing arrest, for having supported opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov, the company’s co-founders, Vladimir Scherban, husband and wife team Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin, and veteran actor Oleg Sidorchik are forced to seek asylum in Britain.
Interviews with members of the troupe are combined with scenes from their shows performed in Belarus, New York, Edinburgh and London. These include Belarus 2011 and Being Harold Pinter – both dramatised the torture testimonies of Belarusian dissidents. Particularly affecting are the images of children in Minsk playing at arresting and handcuffing each other and the BFT’s attempts to interest the British public in the plight of Belarusian dissidents while leafleting in London. Sackler also uses footage of the demonstrations in Minsk, showing protestors being brutally hauled into vans by the KGB. Not surprisingly, all of the film shot in Belarus had to be smuggled out of the country.