If cinema is torn between reality and fiction, then alongside the recent documentary Plot for Peace which told the until then untold story of the mysterious “Monsieur Jacques” who helped free Mandela and end apartheid in South Africa, Dangerous Acts is a further testament that compelling narratives lie in the fabric of the reality of the everyday. This is regardless of whether they are lost in the shadows of the past or are a part of the present day. Whilst a recounting of the story of the Belarus Free Theatre, Dangerous acts has heart, and is an example of a masterful collaboration between a filmmaker and life.
Sackler originally intended Dangerous Acts to be a documentary from inside of Belarus, but following the rigged election in December of 2010, Sackler’s protagonists were forced into exile. The unexpected evolution of the story serves the film well, affording it a certain gravitas by internationalising the plight of this group of artists and the oppressed population they represent. Moving outside of Belarus to New York and London immediately taps into the freedom to perform, protest as well as the presence of the free press that are emblematic of the UK and US in contrast to the ‘occupied’ Belarus.
It adds weight to the latter complaints of the inactivity of the UN that lingers like a shadow over the film, and in a moment of hypothesising the future, a scene from a play the group performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival issues a stark warning that any future help for Belarus will in all likelihood derive from the selfish greed of other nations. From the recent past to the present, Sackler’s film looks ahead, focused not only on the past and the present, but also the future.
Dangerous Acts does not limit itself to being an idle observer of the Belarus Free Theatre. With its provocative and disquieting imagery it hits an emotional nerve, and whilst telling one story Sackler instils her film with a broad gaze. On the surface it may be about “Europe’s Last Dictatorship”, yet a broader story looms beneath. It is a celebration of creativity, the power of the arts to inform and to be a record of a time and a place. It is a testament to the power of the arts that as a socially conscious force is capable of contesting the villainy that distorts or attempts to distort the truth.
Whilst testifying to the difficulty of change, in equal measure it echoes the endurance of humanity to strive for the basic freedoms intended for every single person. Dangerous Acts is in fact a fitting name considering footage was shot and smuggled out of the country to help tell the story of humanities fight for freedom for all her sons and daughters, beyond the Belarusian chapter.
Dangerous Acts transcends its contemporary relevance. It is a timeless piece of documentary filmmaking that serves as both a record of a time and as a warning. It is a cautionary tale for those of us who take freedom for granted; a powerful wake up call to the plight of our fellow man, and the realisation of a world war that has ceased to end – the struggle for freedom for every single every person. Dangerous Acts is powerful and compelling viewing. In equal measures it is harrowing and life affirming.