Berlinale film highlights Belarus protesters’ courage to carry on

BERLIN — The director of “Courage,” a documentary about three actors who threw themselves into the protests that erupted after Belarus’s contested presidential elections last summer, hopes the film will help highlight the plight of political prisoners in the country.

The film, which is showing at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, follows the lives of a trio of actors who 15 years ago quit the Minsk State Theatre in protest against repression to set up their own underground theater group.

Last year, their time came when thousands took to the streets across the East European country of 10 million, saying that the election victory claimed by President Alexander Lukashenko was fraudulent.

“We knew from the very beginning that it could get real serious,” said director Aliaksei Paluyan. “When a person who has been exploiting your country for 26 years says they are going to shoot… to me and to my camera-woman it was clear: They are going to shoot.”

The protests that have racked the country since August have seen opposition candidate Svetlana Tichankovskaya driven into exile, while her husband and many close allies are in prison alongside many others who have been arrested in police crackdowns of a brutality unprecedented in the country.

Paluyan, a Belarusian who left for Germany in 2012, said that while he was hoping the film would reach a big audience, he was afraid, both for his country and for his film’s three protagonists, thrust into the center of attention by his film.

“Courage and audacity is when you say ‘I’m afraid, I’m horribly afraid, but I’m still going to continue’,” he said.

The film festival began on Monday in a low-key, private fashion, being streamed to a select audience of journalists and industry professionals rather than playing to packed cinemas. The public will be invited to screenings from the festival in June, when authorities hope vaccinations will enable cinemas to reopen. (Reporting by Lena Toepler; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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