Handbook

Powerful short film using interviews with Belarusian protestors who were attacked and tortured by the authorities to reverse-engineer a ‘handbook’ for oppression.

When dictator Lukashenko once again declared himself the winner of a stolen election in 2020, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest, despite knowing it would make them a target for violence by the secret police. There were mass arrests, people were rounded up, imprisoned without charge, and subjected to torture.

The director, Pavel Mozhar, had to watch it unfold on the news from his bedroom, under Covid restrictions in Germany. There, he made this film, his own act of defiance, to show what was inflicted upon ordinary people whose only crime was opposing tyranny.

He clears his bedroom to make a featureless, anonymous space. Dressed in the black of the authorities, with balaclava and baton, he demonstrates with uniformed volunteers how to put people in stress positions and where to hit people for maximum painful effect. He stares down the barrel of the camera, this is for our instruction as the audience. The effect is unnerving, chilling, and sickening.

As the audio narrates the testimonies of victims, the instructor demonstrates each movement, from placing detainees in a stack, so the ones of the top are beaten, and the ones on the bottom suffocate, to handcuffing people behind their shoulders to cause extreme pain. When victims describe being packed in, dozens to a tiny space in a roofless cell or van, a diagram appears on screen, giving measurements of a van or cell, like in a manual.

Really powerful short film