VILNIUS - Woody Allen, Alexandr Sokurov, Andrzej Wajda and Julio Medem are among the masters of world cinema who have films on release this year. But movies of such caliber are unlikely to see much distribution in the Baltic countries. Here, the only way local audiences will be able to enjoy them is to catch them at a film festival.
Lithuania's preeminent movie fest, Cinema Spring (Kino Pavasaris in Lithuanian), is launched in Vilnius again this coming week. Due to be held on April 3-17, film lovers in the Lithuanian capital will be able to enjoy some remarkable celluloid works of art.
Cinema Spring is already one of the most popular film festivals in the Nordic and Baltic region. Now in its 13th year, it has introduced many a movie masterpiece to culture-hungry Lithuanian audiences, notching up in excess of 45,000 attendees last year, a record since the event was launched in 1995. That beat audience figures at similar events in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Moscow.
This year, the organizers have enlisted Greta Zabukaite, the director of the Skalvija movie theater, one of the very few independent cinemas in the Baltic region to hold its own against the invasion of the multiplexes. Her experience in finding the kind of films that go down well with Lithuanian audiences, and her contacts at film festivals in Europe where the copies of the films are coming from, have been invaluable.
Zabukaite has also conducted additional promotion for the festival among audiences at the Skalvija, a cinema that has proved many times over that independent and European films can have popularity in Lithuania that rivals conventional movies from Hollywood.
The feeling is reciprocal. The Skalvija itself has the distinction of buying mainly arthouse films for distribution in Lithuania, and Zabukaite in turn will be able to judge from the festival audiences' reactions what films could go on general release here.
As an example, following a rapturous reception at last year's Cinema Spring, the multi-layered Danish film "After the Wedding" subsequently filled the auditorium at the Skalvija many times over.
Since almost all of the films at Cinema Spring will have been screened at other film festivals, only five or six of the 60 movies at Cinema Spring will be without English subtitles. Visitors should check the kinopavasaris.lt Web site beforehand, although at the time of going to press, information on subtitles was not yet online.
On the repertoire
The strong program that Zabukaite and her colleagues have created this year doesn't ignore U.S. filmmaking. Gus van Sant's "Paranoid Park" is about a teenager who accidentally kills a security guard. More fluent and coherent than his other recent films "Elephant" (based on the Columbine high school massacre) and "Last Days" (exploring the end of the life of a rock star closely resembling Kurt Cobain), "Paranoid Park" has still left critics divided over its heavily stylized approach.
Woody Allen is featured with his latest film to be set in London, "Cassandra's Dream." It is a noir-ish thriller about two working-class brothers, played by Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, who dream of improving their mundane lives through murderous means.
"Control," the debut film by photographer Anton Corbjin, who is famous for his music videos and images of the likes of U2, Nirvana and Depeche Mode as well as Latvian band Brainstorm, tells the story of Ian Curtis, the doomed singer of the hugely influential Manchester group Joy Division.
"Control" is one of several British films included in the Cinema Spring lineup, while "Once," a low-budget drama about struggling musicians set in Dublin that won an Oscar this year for Best Original Song, represents innovative and in this case highly naturalistic filmmaking in Ireland.
Likely arrivals in person at Cinema Spring include U.S. director Ed Radtke, who has painstakingly made just three films in 17 years, but whose "Speed of Life" is a strong contender for the festival's audience prize.
It is a quirky story centered on a 13-year-old boy who steals video cameras from tourists in New York and plans to explore the world inspired by the images he sees in the stolen videotapes.
Another face at Cinema Spring will be Shivajee Chandrabhushan, an Indian director whose latest film "Frozen" won the special jury prize this year at a film festival in New Delhi, prompting it to be chosen for the Toronto and London film festivals. Tackling the controversial issue of brutality in the military, it is set high up in the Himalayan Mountains. The images explore the harshness of the landscape.
Alexandr Sokurov, a Russian filmmaker who has been hailed by some as the successor to the great Andrei Tarkovsky, is represented through his most recent film "Alexandra." It is set during the second Chechen War.
"Chaotic Ana" by Spain's Julio Medem, who has been lauded for his Kieslowskian dramas "The Lovers of the Arctic Circle" and "Sex and Lucia," is about a young woman "who lives in the abyss of her unconscious memory," propelling her to be at turns both an angel and a monster to the people around her.
Esteemed Polish director Andrzej Wajda's "Katyn" is his first film in five years. It details the events leading up to the infamous Katyn massacre when Soviet troops slaughtered around 22,000 Polish citizens in forests near Smolensk. It will have a special screening to an invited audience at the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theater.
The 60 films on the Cinema Spring program are divided into 10 subheadings. The first, Masters, features 10 films from established greats in independent and international cinema, including Wajda, Sokurov, van Sant and Woody Allen. Other "master" filmmakers with their latest creations screening at Cinema Spring include Wong Kar Wai ("My Blueberry Nights") and Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven").
The rest of the subdivisions are titled Discoveries, Bold Vision, Cinema as Entertainment, Documentaries, Arabic Mirage (successor to last year's profile of African cinema), a Lithuanian film program, Isabelle Huppert and Fassbinder retrospectives, and a program of short films.
Under Discoveries, Romania's much talked about Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, the excruciatingly intense abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," will be shown. Meanwhile, Argentine director Liliana Paolineli's "Through Her Own Eyes" is a low-budget thriller about a film student preparing a graduate project on the lives of women whose husbands are in prison. Paolineli will be in Vilnius herself to promote the film.
Leading the Bold Vision program is "Silent Light" by acclaimed Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, another artist inspired to a life of celluloid after watching films by Tarkovsky. "Silent Light" is a visually beautiful work of art with long, slow sequences, focusing on a Mennonite community in northern Mexico. As a reviewer in Time wrote, "All the scenes shine with a visual and emotional brilliance."
The documentary section is slightly smaller than last year, but stands out with two features: "The 11th Hour," a Leonardo DiCaprio-produced movie that is a call to action about climate change, and "Heima," a wonderful fusion of Icelandic landscape and the searing music of Sigur Ros.
The Cinema Spring International Film Festival takes places from April 3 to 17 at the Coca-Cola Plaza (Forum Cinema Vingis) on Savanoriu Street 7, and at the Skalvijos Cinema, Gostauto Street 2.