This is an important and emotionally compelling film about theatre under repressive regimes.
I knew nothing about the Belarus Free Theatre before seeing this film, but they seem to have found a compelling way to bring attention to the plight of the arts – and expression at large – in Belarus. Far more dangerous regimes do not get this kind of exposure perhaps only because they don’t have underground theatre troops. But regardless of the fact that there are indeed more brutal dictators than Lukashenko, he remains a dictator, and this film does an excellent job of painting him as a leader who is only a leader because he has a gigantic secret police force.
Not that the two situations are comparable in any way, but watching this film, I couldn’t help being reminded of Toronto’s minor experience with such repression in June of 2010, at the G-20 summit; a repression I witnessed first hand. Having witnessed the effects of riot police, and plain clothes officers performing abductions and the like, I can say that this film does a good job of conveying the emotional trauma of such violations of fundamental freedoms, even if such violations seem rather minor compared to, say, all-out genocide.
The film does an admirable job of bringing the rights – or lack thereof – of people in a completely different part of the world into focus in a way that the news regularly fails to: we see people just like us, who just want to perform a basic role of theatre, and who cannot, due to the insecurities of one man, and the unquestioning loyalty of so many others.
As a passerby in the film reminds us, ‘evil happens when good people do nothing.” I may not agree with that entirely – I’d say there aren’t really such people as “good people” necessarily – but I do agree that evil occurs in part when people do nothing. The Belarus Free Theatre reminds us that doing something can be as simple as telling other people what is going on. And this film reminds us that it is only by recording what happens – both what happens and our reactions to what happens – and speaking truth to power that we can influence the masses enough to see changes in our lives.