Lithuania’s Film Renaissance

  • 2015-11-28
  • By Michael Mustillo

Once perceived to be lacking the international recognition garnered by other post-Soviet countries, the Lithuanian film industry has enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade.
In a recent interview about the Lithuanian Film Industry, City Paper spoke with Liana Ruokyte-Jonsson, the Head of the Department of Film Promotion, Information and Heritage of the Lithuanian Film Centre (LFC).

Before the LFC’s establishment, there was no institution responsible for the promotion of Lithuanian cinema.
“We set ourselves a task to become and remain recognizable and visible,” Ruokyte told City Paper. “We have been looking for unconventional and memorable ways to present ourselves (and the Lithuanian film industry). Of course, there is also the necessity to produce quality content. Our filmmakers have pulled themselves together. Their productions have been selected for leading international film festivals’ programs, and they have also been nominated for European film awards.”

The introduction of a new Lithuanian tax incentive in January 2014 assisted the industry in raising much needed capital.
“The growth of Lithuania’s film industry has been mostly prompted by state support, with the possibility to obtain funding from businesses through special tax exemption,” Ruokyte-Jonsson explained. She added that the country’s filmmakers are also starting to create quality Lithuanian films via experimenting with new filming methods.

A pivotal breakthrough within Lithuanian commercial filmmaking and its industry came with the 2011 adventure film, Tadas Blinda: The Beginning, which is based on Lithuanian outlaw and fabled woodland folk hero, Tadas Blinda. The most expensive independent film produced in Lithuanian cinema’s history, it demonstrated that the country’s film industry is not lacking in talent. Since its release, a number of internationally acclaimed Lithuanian films have also emerged, namely The Summer of Sangaile (by Alante Kavaite), The Gambler (by Ignas Jonynas), The Excursionist (by Audrius Juzenas), Master and Tatyana (by Giedre Zickyte), and Noisemaker (by Karolis Kaupinis).

Lithuanian film has rapidly shifted from being a marginal phenomenon, due to the support and interest shown by noted international festivals, plus the combined efforts of filmmakers who started their careers during the Soviet era in Lithuania and those who debuted during the period of political and economic transition in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Since the nineties, Lithuanian filmmakers have continued to tread a cinematic path between extreme auteurist films such as Bartas’ Freedom and Eastern Drift, and his latest movie, Peace to Us in Our Dreams, which premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Both have gained international recognition.

On the other hand, more popular films of best-selling literary adaptations like Fortress of the Sleeping Butterflies or black comedies like Redirected have also garnered some serious pulling power.
Moreover, at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Baltic film institutions signed a mutual cooperation agreement, which aims to boost co-productions between Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

This year, the LFC granted funding to ten co-productions with Latvia and Estonia. “The funding of EUR 234,000 went to five Lithuanian-Estonian co-productions, while four Lithuanian-Latvian co-productions were given (EUR) 314,000,” explained Ruokyte-Jonsson.
“The film Seneca’s Day by director Kristijonas Vildziunas – the first co-production of all three Baltic countries – received support not only from the LFC, but also from the Eurimages fund in 2014. This year, another co-production between the Baltic countries – Pretenders – was supported with EUR 120,000 by Eurimages.”

Ruokyte-Jonsson believes that Lithuania can be distinguished from the Baltic States for the interest of its audience in national productions.
“The popularity of national films in Lithuania has reached 20.17% as opposed to 4.73% in Estonia, and 5.78% in Latvia – although production in all three countries is very similar. Lithuania has been producing more commercial films, but growing interest in commercial productions also increases the popularity of art house films. During the past few years, Lithuanian viewers have returned to film theatres to watch national features, as well as documentaries and animation films. This is an important shift in the Lithuanian film industry – the demand has emerged, and with it, the goal to reach a wider audience in Lithuania and other countries.’’

The renaissance of the industry is perhaps best reflected in the numbers: for several consecutive years there has been talk surrounding the growing audience of Lithuanian films in proportion to all productions screened in the country. The audience for Lithuanian films has reached 23%, compared with 2.48% in 2012.  

Another indicator of success is that the Lithuanian film industry has been standing on two pillars – both art house and commercial films exist on equal terms. Currently, the balance between commercial supply and art house productions is comparable, and adds to the acceleration to the country’s film renaissance.

Photos courtesy of the Dept of Film Production, Information and Heritage of the LFC

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