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Mark Byrne & Rob Dennis
Previously, Mark Byrne had been a camera operator and assistant in Ireland for more than 15 years, with film credits including King Arthur, Tailor of Panama, and the Academy Award-winning short film Six Shooter. He is based in Galway.
California-born Rob Dennis grew up in Ireland, on the Aran islands in Galway bay. He has been an investigative reporter for more than 12 years in the USA, most recently working for the Oakland Tribune, part of the largest newspaper chain in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has won awards for breaking news, public service and investigative reporting.
Westerners, if they think about Belarus at all, tend to picture an anachronism, a drab Soviet-style state ruled by a tragicomic despot. Our goal in making Under the Hood was to move beyond the “last dictator” headlines to find out what life is like for Belarusians – those who support the regime, those who oppose it, and those who are just trying to get by. We were advised early on that it would be impossible to obtain media accreditation for this project, and that if we did we would be under constant surveillance by the KGB, who would swiftly arrest us, deport us and confiscate our footage if they saw something that didn’t meet with their approval. In the parlance of the Soviet era, we would be “under the hood.”
So we went as tourists, filming in secret and smuggling the footage out of the country with the help of those who still must remain anonymous. When we started, Ukraine to the south appeared relatively stable while Belarus seemed poised to implode. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Minsk in December 2010 to protest the latest rigged election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko to power, and the country was riven by mounting discontent over the economy. Stability, the bulwark of Lukashenko’s regime, appeared to be crumbling. Over the course of filming, however, the growing protest movement dissipated along with the optimism of anti-Lukashenko forces. Today, Lukashenko’s rule seems as secure as ever, while Ukraine has been gripped by revolution.
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