Interview with Giedrė Žickytė

Director of documentary on the life of one of the most important photographers of the Soviet era talks about the film ahead of its screening at Ciné Lumière.

I wanted to ask you about working with archival footage: your previous film, “How We Played the Revolution”, and “Master and Tatyana” are both related by you working with material that was sourced from archives.

The footage was radically different in both instances – I do not want to repeat myself, I am interested in constantly finding something new. I am simply telling stories that were happening then, but are also connected to the now. And when one tells stories of the past, one cannot do without the archive.

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In one interview, you went as far as to call the film “Tanya and the Archive”.

That’s what seemed alive to me in this film – its main character Tanya with her archive, the archive of Vitas Luckus that she has kept safe for all these years. This film opened a door into a stunning, touching story that happened more than 30 years ago and was kept completely silent. This was a massive challenge – how do you create a film about someone who is no longer here with material that is not, so to say, live, and about photography, which is not a live medium? Cinema is a living thing. That was one of the toughest tasks – how to make a touching film out of all of this. I decided to tell this film through a love story – love was and is something that is alive, that is still alive with Tanya. Her love manifested through the preservation of this archive.

How did Vitas Luckus become your character, how did he come to you?

I feel as though this story is becoming quite well known. Skirmantas Valiulis told me of Vitas Luckus while I was still at university. A journalist from the Netherlands who had published an album of Luckus visited Vilnius and Skirmantas Valiulis invited me to a meeting with him – to talk about a Lithuanian photographer about whom no one was talking about in Lithuania… We met at the “Neringa” and I had no idea that this story would turn my life upside down years later – I was only 19 years old, after all. The story touched me.

Seven years later I found the photocopied pages of the photo album. I read them and I could not sleep for several nights. I started looking for information online and I was astounded at the lack of it – and started having an idea about making a film… Everything fell into place. I wrote a letter to Tatyana since I had to start somewhere and I could not start without her. It was an immensely long letter – you are not going to say, “hi, Tanya, I want to make a film!”. I told her about myself: who I am, how I found Vitas, what I felt, the questions that I have and why this story is important to me. So many questions that I cannot ask of him. Perhaps I could talk to him through her? The last sentence of the letter was: “will you take me back to Vitas’s life and time?”.

She did not answer me for two months – I kept checking every single day and cannot remember ever waiting for something so intensely. It was Christmas in 2008 and she wrote to me on Christmas Day, as if sending the best Christmas gift. The response was this: “yes, Giedre, I will take you back to Vitas’s life and time”. The following year we communicated intensively on the phone – Tanya did not use “Skype” back then, I installed it for her after going to the USA. We talked so much – she would call me, it would be daytime in the USA, night time in Lithuania… And when I visited her, it seemed to me as if I had known her for a hundred years. This is how we started our journey.

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It seems like there was a conversation between the three of you – Vitas, Tanya and you. In the beginning, perhaps, she was a mediator, but the conversations and the bond between you two changed that.

Tanya could never be just a mediator. Everyone had an individual relationship with Vitas – Tanya, his friends, others. I knew I could not speak about Vitas objectively since it’s simply impossible. I do not believe in an objective reality in cinema – what is real in cinema is the feeling, something we all feel. Everything else is simply interpretation. If I had attempted an objective portrayal of Vitas, it would have been an encyclopaedia, a collection of every single version of events. Cinema is something else. Like “How We Played the Revolution” – there were many historical events, but the film is their interpretation. Its essence lies in human emotions, their feelings, the fact they could stand before tanks without being armed. That is true and undeniable. Tanya is alive – she has changed, but her love is alive and it served as a basis for my film and helped me orient myself in that great flood of material.

Interview by Paulina Drėgvaitė

Master and Tatyana screening Wednesday plus Q&A with director Giedre Žickyte – 14th June at 6:30 PM at CINÉ LUMIÈRE – Institut Français du Royaume-Uni.

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Film Review: The Balcony

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 Winner of the Silver Crane Award for best Lithuanian short film, The Balcony is a bitter-sweet tale of young friendship and dysfunctional families. A rose-tinted recreation of 1980s Lithuania. The era is seen through the eyes of two children and the director appears to be yearning for a simpler era. Those in the west seeing The Balcony for the first time may be surprised that the director has deliberately chosen to present a version of the Soviet era which runs counter to the more familiar narratives filled with oppression and poverty.

Director Giedrė Beinoriūtė’s recreation of the 1980s is filled with values that she feels have been lost in the years since independence. Directing films and documentaries since 1997,  Soviet rule and the consequences of its dismantling is a recurrent theme in her work.  Beinoriūtė’s 2008 film The Balcony is an unashamedly sentimental celebration of innocence.

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The film is set in a nondescript housing estate in an unspecified part of Lithuania. Rolanas’ parents have recently divorced and he has had to leave his hometown and move to a new district. Settling in he soon becomes friends with the young girl living in the neighbouring flat. Two shy and insecure children find that they have much in common.

The Balcony offers a glimpse of childhood under Soviet rule that may shatter many preconceptions. It is an effective dramatisation of children coming to terms with the breakup of their families.

The film is available to watch exclusively at Baltic View.

If you want to see The Balcony send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

Film Review: Land of Soul

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A derelict church stands in a forest six hours drive from Chicago. Battered by weather, it’s a monument to forgotten waves of immigration from Estonia in the early years of the Twentieth century. One of the last surviving monuments to the hopes and dreams of that first group of settlers from the Baltics it’s a historically significant building.

When it seemed that the church might be lost forever due to the elements a saviour arrived determined to restore the building to its former glory and remind the descendants of Estonian immigrants about their heritage.

In 1900 large numbers of Estonians fled the country in search of a better life. Some went to Australia and Russia. For those who arrived in America, the land of opportunity promised greater religious and political freedoms. Close to 200 newly arrived migrants relocated to Gleason when an Estonian language newspaper published an article that noted similarities between the Wisconsin landscape and Estonia’s countryside. In 1907 the community purchased a stretch of land and established its first church on American soil.

Disused for more than half a century this church was forgotten as successive generations left the village and migrated to cities. Abandoned and later vandalised, it looked as though the elements would destroy this touchstone to the first wave of Estonian migration. When it looked like all hope of preserving it was lost a film director came to the rescue. For several decades Bill Rebane has written, directed, and produced low-budget cult movies. The great nephew of the church’s first minister of faith, his emotional attachment to the building galvanised Estonians into banding together to restore the church.

Kullar Viimne and Erik Norkroos documentary follows  Bill Rebane and his band of committed volunteers as they endeavour to restore the building to its former glory. The film successfully communicates why it is so important to preserve this place of worship. More than a testament to long gone generation’s hopes and dreams it’s a physical embodiment of a group of people’s one remaining symbol of home and spiritual freedom.

As the band of volunteers busy themselves restoring the building’s foundations and installing a new roof, Estonian Rock-star Tõnis Mägi is invited to fly to America and play at a benefit concert. Documenting the last few weeks of work on the church, it follows  Tõnis Mägi as he prepares to perform in it’s grounds. Land of Soul shows how song and prayer have united successive generations of Estonians.

Enlightening and moving, Land of Soul reminds descendants of immigrants about the importance of not forgetting their cultural history.  The film is a fitting memorial to those early settlers and a celebration of what their descendants have achieved in America.

The film is available to watch exclusively on Baltic View.

If you want to see Land of Soul send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

Film Review: The Green Musketeers

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You Gotta Fight for the Right to Garden: How an environmentalist movement planted a seed which grew into Lithuanian independence.

As the Soviet Union started to crumble Mikhail Gorbachev introduced a number of reforms intended to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure. He may have ended the Cold War but the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union inadvertently brought about the downfall of Communism in Europe.

Under Soviet rule since 1944, the Communist Party of Lithuania governed with an iron fist. The implementation of Perestroika was meant to reform Soviet Communist parties but it led to citizens experiencing greater freedoms for the first time since the Iron Curtain fell across Europe.

In Lithuania, a group of young idealists enraged by plans to drill for oil in the Baltic Sea organised a large-scale protest. This band of ecologically conscious Lithuanians established a community “Atgaja” and defined the zeitgeist for a nation heading towards independence.

Swedish director Jonas Ohman’s documentary shines a light on a moment in history largely unknown outside Lithuania. Interviewing surviving members of the community and using archive footage he demonstrates how a single idea can overthrow a tyranny. Focusing on the community’s charismatic leader Saulius Gricius, the film explores the community’s considerable legacy.

The Green Musketeers has an undeniable environmentalist message but it also drives home the importance of standing up to oppression and injustice no matter how high the personal cost may be.

The film is available to watch exclusively on Baltic View.

If you want to see The Green Musketeers send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

Baltic View – Your New Obession

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Eclectic collection demonstrates Baltic cinema has a wealth of talent awaiting discovery.

A new platform to view the latest films from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Baltic View launched with a free-to-view showcase selection of shorts. In the ever crowded online marketplace, new content needs to be distinctive to stand apart from the rest of the crowd and hook an audience. Does Baltic View’s collection demonstrate freshness and originality? The answer is a resounding yes.
Delivering 25 films in time for Christmas the collection was more offbeat than Call the Midwife‘s festive special and had more to say about the human condition than ITV’s turkey Maigret. Still available to watch, the films are grouped into four collections: Baltic Party Time, Animation for Thought, Our Baltic Obsessions, and Family & Children’s Films.

At last year’s Nordic-Baltic Film Festival Mother demonstrated that Baltic Noir might be the next big thing. Overlooked for too long, Baltic cinema is on the verge of a breakout moment. If you are looking for an ideal place to start your journey into the vibrant and often experimental filmmaking from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania sign up for Baltic View. Not just a one-off film festival, further titles are going to be added to the portal in the coming days.

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With so many hours of exciting stuff available where to start? Check out the delightful stop-motion animated film No Routine. Director Jurate Samulionyte’s fifteen-minute film is a Latvian The Red Balloon but made for adults.
Ivars Zviedris documentary Man Who Plays is a screen poem which plays out like a distant cousin of the British Documentary Movement’s pioneering work. It is guaranteed to reawaken your inner child.
Marija Kavtaradze’s I’m Twenty Something marks her out as a talent to watch. A comedy by and about twenty-somethings. Expect great things when the director graduates to feature film production.

If you want to see the short films send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Live screenings and events are planned for 2017.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.

Baltic View – Putting Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Cinema on the Map

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New online portal showcasing the best of Baltic filmmaking.

Waving the flag for Baltic cinema, a new digital hub is a place to watch and celebrate a selection of contemporary feature-length films, classics, short films, animation, and documentaries.

Officially launching in January with a selection of award-winning films from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A selection of short films is available to view now for free. If you want to see the short films send an email to hello@balticview.online to register your interest.

Live screenings and events are planned for 2017.

Follow @baltic_view on Twitter.

A Facebook page has the latest information on screenings.