BELARUS 80 MIN
Over 1500 women are detained in a Belarus prison for first-time offenders. Eleven of them have volunteered to take part in a theatre play. Their reasons vary: some see it as a small break from the tedium of prison life, some regard it as therapy, and others approach it as a practice run for when they return to society. The rehearsals serve as the leitmotif for this balanced portrait that subtly frees these women from the stigma of being criminals. The women talk as mothers, daughters and wives. They miss their families and wrestle with the guilt of losing so many years behind bars. The director uses various techniques to present these women as three-dimensional charac-ters: close-up interviews about their fears, beautifully framed shots of the daily collective routines of jail life, images from surveillance cameras that emphasize how their lives are controlled, and of course their debut on the professional stage. By then, you almost feel as if you’ve landed in a feel-good movie with a happy ending, but the director doesn’t let it get that far.
Studied at the Belarusian State Academy of Arts (Documentary Film Directing department) and the State Academy of Postgraduate Education (Higher School of Advertising). She has been working in television since 2008 as a director of historical, entertainment and scientific TV programs. Her first documentary Crossroads (2014) won international TV and festivals acclaim, had a world premiere at Warsaw IFF, was awarded there with two prizes: Special Mention Jury Award and Audience Award.
I was immediately attracted when I heard about the theater project in the Gomel women's penitentiary. Having obtained permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, I got a unique opportunity to film in a closed institution for a year. In the beginning, I was interested mainly in the phenomenon of the theater and the influence of art on the people convicted of a crime. But during the filming, there has been a change of focus. In the film, the theater rehearsals will be a merging element, which will form a group portrait of the eleven characters and will tell what is it to be a woman and a mother behind bars.
The average terms of imprisonment in Belarus are from 5 to 15 years. But the real punishment for inmates is not the lack of personal space, endless searches or ugly clothing. Longterm imprisonment destroys a woman's psyche. The break with the family deprives a woman of the opportunity to be a mother and hurts her children irreversibly.
But we live in the country where a person, once she has committed a crime, is forever castigated. Society perceives any crime as a life-long stigma. For those with a criminal record, many doors are closed forever. It's almost impossible to find a job and get back to a normal life.
My film is not an attempt to justify the crime. This is the evidence of the tragedy of a woman who understands her purpose in life, only after a fatal mistake has already been made. With my work, I believe I can influence the public opinion, dissolve stereotypes and change the life of many people for better.
IDFA, Netherlands 2017
DOKer 2018 — Main Competition