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by Alison Willmore
September 3, 2013 4:26 PM
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HBO Nabs TV Rights to 'Lottery' Director's Doc About the Belarus Free Theatre Ahead of Film's Toronto Premiere

HBO has picked up the U.S. television rights to Madeleine Sackler's "Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus," a doc about the the award-winning Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) group.

The third film from the director of 2010's "The Lottery," "Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus" is set to have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8th. The festival's description, written by Thom Powers:

Creating provocative theatre carries risks: emotional, financial, and artistic. For the Belarus Free Theatre, there are additional risks of censorship, imprisonment, and worse. In "Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus," director Madeleine Sackler goes behind the scenes with the troupe of gutsy performers who defy Europe's last remaining dictatorship. In the Republic of Belarus, the authorities forbid theatrical treatment of topics such as sexual minorities, alcoholism, suicide, and politics. The Free Theatre responds by injecting these taboos into performances that are staged secretly in Belarus and to critical acclaim overseas. Using meagre props and resources, their work is rich in imagination and subversion. After a visit to Minsk, where the troupe is based, British playwright Tom Stoppard said, "I wish all my plays would be performed by a theatre like this."

"Dangerous Acts" picks up the story in 2010, as the KGB of Belarus is cracking down on dissenters. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Alexander Lukashenko took power in Belarus' 1994 presidential election — and never let go. Now, as a dubious new presidential election takes place, the KGB targets Free Theatre founders Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada, along with their colleagues. Their plight is reminiscent of Eastern European writers and artists during the Cold War who had to choose between repression at home and disconnection in exile. What's changed in the twenty-first century is the power of documentary crews to capture what's happening. In Sackler's film we get a front-row seat to a resistance movement full of vitality, both on the stage and in the streets. As one Free Theatre member says, "Work and laughter are what will save us."

HBO will premiere the film in 2014. "HBO is the perfect home for 'Dangerous Acts,'" Sackler said in the announcement. "After working on this film in secret for the last three years because of the censorship in Belarus, we are very excited to be sharing it with audiences on HBO." Submarine's Josh Braun negotiated the deal.

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