"Three Turtles in Belarus" film documentary

Three Turtles In Belarus (2021)

Help the filmmakers tell this story of 'music as protest' in Belarus as the artists,  writers, and performers work for democratic reforms in their country.

In 1969 the songs “Ohio” and “Find the Cost of Freedom” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young galvanized the anti-war movement in the USA. Millions made their voices heard, and eventually ended the Vietnam War. “Three Turtles” is the most well-known protest anthem in modern Belarus, and it is sung in town squares, in cafes and in the streets at every protest march. If admittedly biased eye-witness reports can be believed it is even sung by prison guards and their political prisoners in jails all over Minsk.

Pit Pawlaw describes "Three Turtles" and how it galvanizes the protests in Belarus.

Tens of thousands of citizens: doctors, teachers, factory workers and office employees – have been arrested and jailed, sometimes for months during the national elections of 2020. Victims publish thousands of stories about abuse, even torture at the hands of government secret police on social media.

51880372_1609791430936597_r.jpegThousands of stories on social media document the abuse of protestors by police.

Pitor Paulau (Pit Pawlaw is his stage name) is spectacularly on the front lines of the current civic unrest in Belarus. Pit first performed “Three Turtles” as a song of dissent in 1990 as an original member of the band that made it famous, N.R.M. During demonstrations Pit sings the song to the riot police - with their tactical vehicles arrayed against him – as if to ask them to join in the singing. Pit’s performance reveals his belief that music is the bridge that can bring his country together.  

51880372_1605043073795687_r.jpegArmored vehicles and riot police meet peaceful protestors in Minsk, October 2020

In an interview Pit describes the song’s lyrics as high irony – skewering the government’s insistence on promoting absurd propaganda.  “We all know that the world is a sphere,” he says, “but on TV, on radio, we must say the world is flat.” The song mocks an odd propaganda ‘origin story’ created decades ago as the Belarus state pulled away from the USSR. The story is an odd mix of homespun rural tradition and fake mythology that likely originated in a government propaganda office decades ago, dreamed up to pacify an anxious nation following independence.  

October 23, 2020 in Minsk tens of thousands of peaceful protestors are met with military style force from police.

Today “Three Turtles” tells listeners that immovable elephants are steering the ship of state. “Don’t wait,” to take civic action the song says, because waiting will not bring a surprise end to current repression by the government.

"When you have a smell of the municipal sewer,

And the state puts a noose around your neck,

You’ll understand then that the three turtles

Still pull the earth."

"When you go out to the city or climb the mountains,

And get in touch with the people,

You’ll understand then that today, as it was yesterday,

Our place is on three whales."

"Hey la-la-la-lai,

Don’t wait, there’ll be no surprises.

Hey la-la-la-lai,

Don’t wait, don’t wait."

(final verse)

"To love Belarus, our dear mother,

One must visit different countries.

Then you’ll understand: under your feet

Three elephants stand motionless."

51880372_160504380952787_r.jpegPit Pawlaw an original member of N.R.M. - the band that made the song a protest anthem in the 90's in Belarus.

In August 2020 Alexander Lukashenko was reelected President for five years - his sixth term in office. The European Union Foreign Minister labeled Belarus’ 2020 election “neither free nor fair,” a damning indictment and said further that, “The people of Belarus deserve better.” The EU has steadily increased economic sanctions against Lukashenko and those who support him, in an effort to bring about reforms.  Mass demonstrations have continued in Belarus unabated in the weeks and months since the election.

“In Belarus, critical journalists and bloggers are threatened and arrested, leading news sites are blocked, access to information is restricted and media diversity is unknown.” - Reporters Without Borders, 2020

51880372_1605044062141616_r.jpegPit Pawlaw is the face of dissent in Minsk, 2020

Lukashenko was first elected in 1994 and he immediately began exerting systematic government control of the press and cracking down on any form of dissent in music, art and public performance. According to international media watchdog group Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Authorities in Belarus exercise almost absolute control over the media; and the few independent journalists and bloggers face harassment and detentions.”

Consequences for violating strict censorship rules are so severe that huge portions of Belarus’ popular culture, including a once thriving contemporary music scene moved underground starting in the 90’s. Thirty years later “Three Turtles” once again symbolizes a people’s resistance against an unjust and illegitimate government.

Today in Belarus expressing dissent publicly or just singing a song in public can result in jail, a beating or worse by government enforcers. Artists, writers, poets, actors and performers of all kinds are risking their lives to make the voice of a free society heard. “Three Turtles in Belarus” shares the perspective of the Belarus creative class and supports their struggle to rid to world of yet another dictator-in-waiting in a free and democratic society.

Documentary film: “Three Turtles in Belarus”

  From December 2020 through June 2021 the producers will shoot and edit a short film under 48 minutes presenting the role played by music, art and performance in Belarus during the country’s ongoing civil unrest. Seen primarily through the activities of Belarus’ most notable protest singer, Pit Pawlaw, the film explores the communities created around public performances during times of protest. More than a dozen voices of dissent are heard including writers and artists, academics, stage and media performers with an emphasis on telling the stories of those who have been ‘disappeared’ from the streets of Minsk.

Production Outline

  Shooting begins in December 2020 and ends in April 2021. Two crews, one contracted monthly and one used on daily assignment will film a total of approximately 20 interviews, one dozen live events, a handful of musical performances, and a majority of the weekly activities of the film’s protagonist, the performer and singer of “Three Turtles”, Pit Pawlaw.

  Formal interviews will be conducted remotely via internet video link but shot on location with broadcast camera and sound equipment. Dailies will be shared with the U.S. based producing and post-production crew via a shared online storage link. Post-production will be ongoing with a scheduled 8 weeks of dedicated effort following the conclusion of filming.

  A festival preview draft edit, and online trailers will be completed by the end of June 2021.

Production Assets

1st and 2nd Units in Belarus

1.     1 senior camera operator

2.     1 camera operator

3.     1 senior translator

4.     1 translator

5.     1 senior sound engineer

6.     1 sound engineer

7.     1 senior producer

8.     1 producer

Production Estimates

  An approximate 5 month shoot with 20 interviews recorded within 50 minutes driving distance from Minsk, 30-40 minutes per interview. Event coverage: as often as three days per week to start, more or fewer days per week thereafter depending on circumstances. Performance coverage: multi-cam at 4 live events; single cam at 6 social events, and multi-cam at 6 social events (12 total). Pit Pawlaw coverage, 30-40 filming days out of the approximate 20-week shooting schedule (significant address to camera narration, with translation).

Crew 1 (Sr. cam, Sr. audio, Sr. translator, Sr. producer)

20 interviews/b-roll – 3 hrs. / .5 day each                       20 prod. Days

12 events coverage – 3 hrs. / .5 day each                        12 prod. Days

4 performance events – 12 hrs. / 2 days each                 8 prod. Days

30 days Pit Pawlaw coverage                                                30 prod. Days

Total Days Unit 1                                                                          70 days (of 100 days)

Crew 2 (Cam, audio, translator, producer)

4 interviews/b-roll – 3 hrs. / .5 day each                          4 prod. Days

6 events coverage – 3 hrs. / .5 day each                           6 prod. Days

4 performance events – 6 hrs. / 1 day each                   4 prod. Days

12 days Pit Pawlaw coverage                                             12 prod. Days

Total Days Unit 2                                                                       26 days (of 150)

Production Cost Estimates

Above the Line Expense Belarus                                                $28,592
Below the Line Expense Belarus                                                $11,862
Production Costs Belarus Estimate                                         $20,000
Above the line Cost USA                                                                $30,000
Below the line Expense USA                                                        $14,000
            Total Project Estimate                                                        $104,454


  • Anonymous 
    • $100 
    • 1 mo


Stephen Pedroff 
Santa Barbara, CA
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