American Film Critics Participate in BelarusDocs Online Film Festival

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk teamed up with the American Film Showcase documentary film experts Michael Renov and Christine Acham to support the third online documentary film festival BelarusDocs.  For an entire week beginning on Tuesday, April 7, American film critics are watching the films along with the local audiences and then provide expert jury reviews. Seven thought-provoking films by seven Belarusian filmmakers address topics, which offer a deep insight into the Belarusian society. Each of the films is available for 24 hours during the festival days at and is shown in Russian/Belarusian with English subtitles.

Christine Acham, Professor of the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai’i has provided the below review of the first film “The Coach” by Olga Abramchik.

The Coach begins as voices are heard over a black screen.  The conversation is a familiar one–an event is starting and clearly someone is late.  The following shot reveals a group of people from a distance and you can only see their outlines. A man complains that the group is going  to miss the anthem, the most interesting part of the event. The screen cuts to black again and the following shot is a close up of two men in sunglasses one of whom continues to grumble about the situation. The following two cuts are closeups of two other men in their group and then as the group moves toward the stadium it is revealed that certain members of this group are blind. What is so clever about this opening scene is that director Olga Ambramchik positions the audience to empathize with the man in a common situation.  Who has not been left waiting for a friend, annoyed that they might be late and miss the beginning of a movie or a game?  

 The opening moments of the scene occur before the film reveals that people speaking have a disability. Persons with disabilities are often stigmatized and underestimated, recognizing them in their humanity is at times difficult for those without disabilities. This is what The Coach asks it audience to do, to see the documentary’s subjects as human. Yura is a truly talented soccer player, but a bit of a hothead, so much so that he often doesn’t pass the  ball wanting to score the goals on his own.  Another young player once had his sight and was a volleyball player for eight years, should he be prevented from playing another sport because of his condition?  Vlad is less than confident on the field, but is supported by his Coach who will even allow him to play during the most important game of the season.  These men all represent personalities and people that we know. The film asks us: Should they not get all the support they need to live their lives as they want, regardless of their disability?  Ambramchik’s film urges the audience to consider this idea, to see the film’s subjects as human first.

She also paints a vivid and likable picture of the coach, Oleg Kirilov, a dedicated man, a true advocate for people with disabilities, whether he it is on the field with his players or talking to doctors about their role in changing society’s view of persons with disabilities.  He is someone who brings such joy and compassion with him wherever he goes, evident as he easily befriends some Sri Lankan cricket players, trying out the new sport himself.  He encourages those he works with to live life with confidence and to their full potential. Watching the Coach and his players encourages the audience leave the film enveloped in their positivity and perhaps with a changed viewpoint about persons with disabilities.