Life events

The unforgettable Belarus

11/04/2016

The short film I directed ‘That’s life – Abner Harris’ was selected for the Festival, Short Film Club in Minsk, capital of Belarus. As the news came last minute; me, my brother Eric, Gianluca and Abner didn’t have enough time to get visas at the embassy and it is always better that you do this before. To enter the country you need a formal invitation, address where and for how long you are staying, reason for visiting the country… blablabla. Even with all the papers in our hands…

Flight – London – Warsaw (Poland) – 30 minutes chat with the airline crew before they let us fly.

Flight – Warsaw – Minsk – 45 minutes wait for us and the Ambassador of Sweden before we’re able to board the plane (so even diplomats may be barred).

At Minsk airport

We waited 2 hours to get the visa because we were considered ‘suspects’ by the airport officials. They called the film festival organiser and he had to explain the reason for our visit.

With the Visa, we went to the Passport Control.

I got a stamp. Gianluca too. Eric didn’t. The officer broke his passport and the cover came off so his passport has to be checked by all the airport agents. ‘If everything is ok, you can enter the country, otherwise you will go back to yours.’

Another hour of waiting. Eric got a stamp.

Abner came on the overnight flight and everyone at the airport already knew who he was. Only an hour of waiting.12901517_1070606182996840_2766085357189616195_o

Four days in Minsk

People are very nice, but consider themselves shy. The country is communist and the president has been the same since 1994. Talking about politics is a taboo. If you are caught complaining about the government you can be arrested. We hear many opinions about the government but we prefer to keep it under strict confidentiality. 🙂

Most young people speak English, which helps a lot. We were surrounded by kind and helpful people who made our trip super nice, funny and unforgettable.

What to eat and drink

Everything is very cheap for those coming from Europe. A pint costs one euro. Yes, we got drunk every day! 🙂 The Belarusians love pancakes! In fact, you find all kinds of food: meat, chicken, sausage, salads, pizza, burgers…

– What about Japanese food? They have but it’s made by Russians.

Being a foreigner is cool

The laws over there are very strict, so few people go there to visit or live. Because of that, there is a lack of contact with foreigners.

“Usually we meet foreigners once a year, when they come for festivals or events.”

Being Brazilian is good! Some people were super excited to meet us. What I heard about Brazilians: one person knew and read books written by Paulo Freire. Other than that, we are back to the traditional: Samba, Carnival and Ronaldinho.

A superstition country

If you leave food on your plate, you will not have enough food in the future. If you whistle indoors, you will lose money. Staying on top of the manhole cover is bad luck. If you hear the church bell ringing, make a wish. If you leave the house, forget something and need come back, you have to look in the mirror. If you have two people who have the same name, you must stand between them and make a wish. The dreams you have on the first night will come true.

Sightseeing

IMG_8994We walked a lot and saw some monuments honouring those who fought in World War II and two statues of Lenin.

Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum – The museum is big and has a lot of details about World War II after the end of the Nazi occupation. However, some people said that the museum is for tourists and merely government propaganda. For us, it was very interesting and I recommend it.

Flea Market – In the Zhdanovichi market you find cameras of the USSR (I bought one for 1.5 euros), medals from WWII, old notes and coins, toy guns and a lot of knick-knack.

Night in Minsk

The Belarusians know how to party. The parties last up to 4 or 5 in the morning and there is always an after party.

Graffity is the alternative scene in Minsk. There was a The Prodigy theme party (the band performs on April 13th), with pillow fight (?). I cannot explain the relationship between the two of them 🙂

IMG_9086The Huligan is in Kastrychnitskaya str., which is considered the hipster street of Minsk. Over there, it has a wall covered with graffiti made by local artists and by a Brazilian artist called Rogério Fernandes.

The place to find musicians and artists is called Tsentralny. Basically it is a breakfast bar inside a bakery where people talk and drink beers or vodka that you buy at the supermarket, which is upstairs.

The after party is at Zakon Buterbroda which is open 24 hours. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Drinks for all tastes: coffee, tea, whiskey, beer. The choice is yours.

The Film Festival

The reason that we went to Minsk. There were 15 shorts shown at the National Centre of Modern Art. Festivals like this need the Government’s approval and there is no financial incentive so collaborators work for free. To choose the winner the audience has to vote, draw something that represented the film and give their opinion about what they liked.

IMG_9242That’s Life – Abner Harris’ was the eighth film to be shown. I explained the synopsis and hoped that people were inspired. For me, this documentary shows that we don’t need to have bureaucratic and boring jobs. You can be an artist and make money with what you love to do. Just believe and work hard.

Obs. Until the publication of this post the winner had not been named…

Funny things…

After the festival, we wanted to celebrated the success of the event, however, the tube security banned our passage. She pointed at Abner and said he was drunk. To be honest that was the only time we were all sober, because the previous night’s hangover still hammering our heads. The collaborators translated, saying the woman was irreducible. After ten minutes of heated discussion, the supervisor was called and laughing, she let us pass.

My impressions

IMG_8997This was time I visited a communist country. Honestly, I had very different ideas. I thought I’d see a lot of poverty, lack of products and little access to information. Apart from the politics talk being forbidden, I found the city very European. The public transport works and there are good parties to have fun. What the Belarusians really miss is us, the tourists. Usually they travel only to border countries so there is an exchange of ideas gap between them and people from other countries. My advice is that you should definitely go there! Apart from the visa (180 euros) and flight tickets (250 euros) everything there is pretty cheap and you will have incredible days with this amazing people!

Special Thanks to: Alex Martyniuk, Julia Kogol, Olga Varaksina, Lera Green, Anna Huana, Vera Arev, Andrey Shcherbo and everyone who helped us during our stay.

Pics by: Gianluca de Girolamo

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