The room was quiet and waiting in anticipation for the documentary to begin. The lights turned low, the screen went dark and the audience sat in silent anticipation as they prepared to observe a glimpse of Belarusian suffering and protest.
The CWU Museum of Culture and Environment and the Department of World Languages and Cultures held a screening of the documentary “Courage” (2021) directed by Aliaksei Paluyan. This film documents the tyranny of the Belarus government and the lives of protestors and theater-art rebels.
Native Belarusian, associate professor of Russian and chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures, Volha Isakava, led this event.
According to Isakava, Belarus has been occupied by an authoritarian government for decades now. During the Belarus protests in 2020, director Aliaksei Paluyan decided to document this reality and follow the lives of the Belarus Free Theater group.
The Belarus Free Theater group is an art rebellion group working against authoritarian rule in Belarus. The members of this group advocate for the presence of creativity, while simultaneously breaking the nation’s laws in the name of theater arts.
According to Isakava, the 2020 protests captured in the film were primarily about fraudulent elections and a plea for those in power to step down. This caused the arrests of massive amounts of protesters as well as the spread of misinformation.
“Activists are not aiming to take or seize control and become a new type of dictator, but rather to allow for the true free elections to take place,” Isakava said.
As the film went on, the audience watched as the militarized state on the screen abused its powers against its people. The documentary showed the unjust imprisonment of protestors, the concept of art and creativity being unlawful and the fraudulent election that threw the people of Belarus into protesting.
“I’m going to go home and cry now,” an audience member stated while walking out the door after the film had ended.
The truths of this documentary seemed to come across to the audience as horrifying yet beautiful. The screen showed a nation’s reality in social ruins contrasted with the beauty of hope and persistence depicted in every theater arts rebel and protestor.
The film ended with a call stating that the theater rebels had been caught and imprisoned for their activism. The audience agreed, after the end of the documentary, that the final scene made their hearts sink, despite their yearning for hope for this nation.
According to Isakava, it can be easy to lose resilience and no longer persist in activist efforts. She found inspiration in the work of Dr. Tiya Miles whose book, “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake,” documents the journey of an artifact from the times of slavery and exemplifies resilience and hope while facing horrific circumstances.
While Belarusian protesters face different challenges, the resilience required to overcome them is similar.
“It’s really difficult to be faced with the futility of your efforts and with the hopelessness of a situation in Belarus. Resilience of hope comes really handy as a concept,” Isakava said in light of discouraging activists’ efforts in her country.
“Courage” was filmed with intent to share the struggles of Belarusian people and to create international acknowledgment of the circumstances in that nation. The event was held to encourage the same awareness for the audience.