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.
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.
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.