Lithuanian cinema strives to find its niche

  • 2005-09-14
  • By Karina Juodelyte
VILNIUS - This year has been a rather fruitful one for the Lithuanian film industry. Several film festivals, such as Kino Pavasaris (Film Spring), the Baltic Sea Documentary Forum, Tinklai (Nets) and the AXX Commercial Film Festival Contest, have taken place this year, helping to provide Lithuania with much-needed exposure.
Perhaps the most important event though will be the Summer Media Studio, an annual program for young filmmakers from all over the world, which is taking place for the seventh time.

Lithuania has a fairly proud cinematic tradition. During the Soviet period, film directors created a number of wonderful films that have remained popular to this day. The fondness for these films was well illustrated this summer when a project entitled "Made in Lithuania: 1956-1991," which was organized by Forum Cinemas, drew huge crowds to screenings of the 40 most famous Lithuanian films and documentaries.

But there is more to Lithuanian cinema than old grainy films made during the Soviet period. Every year, new films are featured in international film festivals around the world. Several of these films gained critical praise from festival juries and even awards. Movie directors such as Sarunas Bartas, Algimantas Puipa, Valdas Navasaitis, Audrius Stonys, Kristijonas Vildziunas, Inesa Kurklietyte and many others have all played a significant part in raising the international profile of Lithuanian cinema.

And promising new directors continue to emerge every year. This year, 14 new film and television directors graduated from the Department of Film and Television (part of the Lithuania Music Academy). The Metropolis movie theater in Munich has shown four of the graduates' films, while the Goethe Institute financed five new films by them, three of which won awards.

The future for Lithuanian film ultimately lies with this talented and enthusiastic generation of filmmakers. But the likes of Kestas Gudavicius, Ignas Miskinis, Kristina Buozyte, Vytas Dambrauskas, Simas Askelav-icius and Ricardas Matacius, to name just a few, will all be only too aware of what they are up against.

Against the odds

The average Lithuanian citizen is barely aware of national film. The regional network of local cinemas has been dismantled in recent years and today, foreign and Lithuanian films only get shown in big cities.

Inesa Kurklietyte is one of the most famous female Lithuanian directors around.

"I feel deeply indebted to the Lithuanian viewer on behalf of film makers and distributors because we were not able to show the people that we have an interesting and strange film tradition," she says.

Theaters have only recently begun turning to Lithuanian films. As little as a year ago, the only place you could see them was at the film festivals Kino pavasaris and Tinklai.

The film industry is still in a very precarious situation. Young directors struggle to find their place in the industry, and their university professors probably neglect to tell them that directors must often work as producers and sometimes even distributors as well.

In reality there are precious few film producers in Lithuania. Businessmen are unwilling to sponsor movies, and few among them know how to lure potential sponsors.

Silver linings

If only there were more young people around like Ieva Norviliene. She compiled a comprehensive list of international film festivals and has been diligently submitting movies. This year's Summer Media Studio, with its theme of "Film Promotion and Distribution," is providing great help for new directors and other industry personnel.

For 10 days students from film schools and young professionals from across the world come to Palanga and listen to marketing, media and publicity professionals give advice on how to best go about marketing a film.

"Even when compared to Latvian and Estonian film, Lithuanian films look poorer at international film fairs," says Kurklietyte. "Latvia and Estonia make more films a year and have at least five times more presentation material for a film. These countries have film centers and can invest seriously in the projects."

Meanwhile, an International Film Center, complete with a working team of administrators, managers, businessmen and producers aiming to further the cause of Lithuanian film, still remains a dream. The Ministry of Culture can only finance one feature-length film per year because its budget is so small and needs to be divided between documentary, animation, short and feature-length films.

Arturas Jevdokimovas, the organizer of the Tinklai festival, identifies the most important and inevitable problem with the Lithuanian film industry: "It does not have any money and is poor even in the context of the film industries in Eastern Europe," he says.

Kurklietyte agrees. She explains that it's a struggle to get state and European Commission backing, due mostly to a lack of cooperation.

The only hope for now is that the new generation of film directors will have the European knowledge they need to establish working relationships with foreign production companies. The talent is certainly out there.