On 8 September 2008, the Office for a Democratic Belarus and the Hanse House organised the screening of “89 Millimeter” – a documentary by a young German director, Sebastian Heinzel, who embarks on a journey to Belarus to discover how a young generation of people live – and how they perceive freedom – in a country which is said to be home to “the last dictatorship in Europe”. The title of the film stems from a difference in the width of railway tracks, which are 89 millimetre wider in Belarus than elsewhere in Western Europe, and is meant to symbolise the difference between these two separate “worlds”. The director captures on film the life of a political refugee who now lives abroad, members of a youth resistance movement, a dancer, a journalist, a house painter who has recently been released from jail, and a patriotic soldier. His initial aim was to demonstrate the impact of the authoritarian regime on the everyday life of young Belarusians. However, what he finds out is how similar young people on both sides of the border are and that “it is possible to overcome limitations in life, if we have the courage to claim our own niche in this world.” The film received critical acclaim and a number of awards at international film festivals and in Germany.
In the discussion that followed, Sebastian Heinzel answered questions from the Brussels audience, who praised the film’s brilliant camerawork and storytelling. The director explained about the origins of the film and the process of its shooting. “I did not want to make a political film; my aim was to make a portrait of young Belarusians from my personal point of view,” said Heinzel. He also noted that a Belarusian would have probably made a very different film, and admitted that, were he to shoot this film once again, he would do it in a different way too, as he now knows much more about this fascinating country.
Special thanks are extended to the Robert Bosch Stiftung, who contributed to the organisation of this event. All copyrights of the film belong to Kloos & Co.