VILNIUS - Ask the average Lithuanian about national cinematography, and probably you'll get an incomprehensible 'huh', 'what?' or 'hmmâ€¦' as he or she, embarrassed, tries to slink away.
But just try to be better than your uninformed victim and find the old films yourself 's you will have little luck. It's not as if Lithuanian filmmaking doesn't exist - the southernmost Baltic country does produce one or two feature films and around 8 documentaries per year - it's simply that most old Lithuanian films are in very poor condition or are irretrievably lost somewhere in dusty archives.
It isn't surprising, therefore, that for many Lithuanians, the works of legendary directors such as Vytautas Zalakevicius, Marijonas Giedrys, Arunas Zebriunas or Remigijus Sabutis are as distant and dated as the dinosaurs. Old Lithuanian films aren't shown in cinemas, and attempts to convert them to DVD format have been unsuccessful. The works that provide an understanding of the formative years of Lithuanian film have been simply unavailable to the people. Until now, that is.
Thankfully this void in Lithuanian cinema knowledge can now be filled by attending 'Made in Lithuania 1956-1991' at the Forum Cinema in Vilnius. This six-month run which kicks off on June 29th will air approximately 40 Lithuanian film classics over the half year. At a rate of two movies a week, the film program will provide Vilnius cinephiles a great opportunity to finally become familiar with their film heritage and see some of the best that Lithuania has to offer.
It is generally agreed that professional cinema in Lithuania was established in the 1960s, when writer-director Vytautas Zalakevicius inspired the country's first school of filmmakers. By pursuing a very personal style and choosing intimate subject matter throughout his career, Zalakevicius became an important icon in Lithuanian cinema and set the bar for future Lithuanian directors. Zalakevicius became famous with the war action drama "Nobody Wanted to Die" (1963), which will be shown as part of the repertoire later this year. Highly acclaimed throughout the Soviet Union and showered with numerous prizes, this feature is perhaps the most widely known Lithuanian film and even today is considered to be one of the best examples of Soviet filmmaking.
Both critics and viewers alike largely agree that the film "Feelings" (1968), by co-directors Algirdas Dausa and Almantas Grikevicius (and written, once again, by Zalakevicius) is the best Lithuanian film of all time. The film depicts a chaotic period in the relationship between the two brothers, one dedicated to his family and conscience, and the other dedicated to the political ideal of Lithuanian nationalism. Refreshingly different, this film lacks the social commentary and stereotypically blunt political affiliations of other films of the era. Despite it's popularity within the country, however, "Feelings" was put out for distribution only within Lithuania and then tucked away on a shelf to gather dust.
'Made in Lithuania 1956-1991' kicks off its run with 'Flight over the Atlantic' (1983). This film, another favorite, follows the legendary story of two Lithuanian pilots, Darius and Girenas, as they take the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1933.
Whether you attend all the showings or pick your favorite two or three films, 'Made in Lithuania' is a rare opportunity to brush up on your knowledge of Lithuanian cinema, don't miss it.
Made in Lithuania 1956-1991
Tickets: from 6 litas (2 euros)