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Lithuanian cinema

Over the last two decades, Lithuanian cinema has continued to attract international attention. The country’s film industry is regularly represented by the films of Šarūnas Bartas, Arūnas Matelis, Audrius Stonys, Gytis Lukšas and Kristijonas Vildžiūnas. New names are starting to appear alongside these recognised directors, such as Kristina Buožytė and Mantas Kvedaravičius, who have had successful premières at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. There is also a provocative new generation that is looking for roads that have yet to be travelled, such as Lina Lužytė, Dovilė Šarutytė and Jūratė Samulionytė, who highlight problems concerning the personal and social identity. The well-established tradition of auteur cinema in Lithuania is coming into contact with new stylistic and thematic trends, which we would like to present in this website.

Auksė Kancerevičiūtė


The Flowing River of Time

Obscure Beginnings

Lithuanian cinema is one of the youngest in Europe. Professional national cinematography started relatively late, only in the mid-20th century. Its beginnings are to be found in the stories told by the early filmmakers. One of these legends marks the beginning of documentary cinema. The first views of Lithuania (which unfortunately have not survived) were filmed by a Kaunas resident by the name of Władysław Starewicz (also known as Ladislas or Vladislav Starevich) in 1909, who soon afterwards left for Moscow and became the world's leading pioneer of puppet animation. At the beginning of the 20th century, Lithuania was of great interest to Lithuanian émigrés. They were most numerous in the USA, which is why filmed images were shown to émigré communities there. After Lithuania became an independent country in 1918, a cinematic chronicle of events was begun at the initiative of the government. Official celebrations, exhibitions, presidents and officials, parades, and the ever more beautiful city of Kaunas were all recorded on. In short, everything that the young country wanted to or could be proud of.

Under the Sun of Stalin 

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet army in 1940, and the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union. One of the first steps taken by the new government was to establish the Lithuanian Film Chronicle Studios in Kaunas. The studio regularly produced documentaries, which advocated the ‘new life’. It was in this way that the documentary  film chronicle gained a hold that was not to be shaken off for 50 years. During the German occupation, the Nazis also filmed propaganda material in Lithuania. In 1944, when Lithuania once again became a Soviet republic, the film studio resumed its work. A series of  film chronicles  called ‘Soviet Lithuania’ began to be produced in 1946, while the first documentaries appeared in 1947. The falsified reality of the post-war period was more or less the same in all the Soviet republics: people were portrayed as participating exultantly in elections, being pleased with the achievements of their work, building factories, bringing in bumper harvests, while the images of a depersonalized life accompanied by the narrator's voice full of enthusiasm. But these embroidered images were at odds with the reality. The brutal treatment meted out to partisans, deportations to Siberia, and forced collectivisation all remained off-screen. But the film industry grew. In 1949 the film studio moved to Vilnius, and Lithuanians went to Moscow and Leningrad in ever greater numbers to study film.

Documentaries Speak with their own Voice

The political ‘thaw’ that set in after Stalin’s death was also evident in documentaries. Until that time, the people who were featured in documentaries had a certain social or ideological function, either as workers, farmers or Soviet intellectuals. However, at the end of the 1950s, a new school of documentary filmmaking began to appear. It had its beginnings in the films by Viktoras Starošas, such as Svajos ir likimai (Dreams and Destinies, 1961) and Nenusimink, Virginijau (Don’t Feel down, Virginijus, 1962). The films show different generations and their dreams coming into contact with the reality, as they step into the world of adulthood. Starošas’ films showed that the director’s own voice was important in documentary cinema.

A revival of documentary filmmaking started at the beginning of the 1960s, with the return of Algimantas Dausa, Almantas Grikevičiusand Robertas Verba from the Soviet film school in Moscow known as the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) . Their films changed the way the leading characters were portrayed.  These were people with an interesting fate, who could express themselves. The aim of documentaries also changed. The recording of a superficial reality or event, and the commentary of an ‘objective’ narrator, were rejected. More metaphors appeared, and also a more refined montage sequence. Almantas Grikevičius’ film Laikas eina per miestą (Time Passes through the City, 1966), which dealt with signs of the past reflected in Vilnius, does not contain a single spoken word. However, the images and sounds in the film create a tightly woven web of associations, which was already common in European cinema at the time.

Ideologised Documentaries and Poetic Cinema

Two main strands formed in Lithuanian documentary filmmaking at the beginning of the 1960s. The first was official documentary as a propaganda tool. Filmmakers were familiar with the manipulation of facts, in order to stage the so-called ‘socialist reality’. The second was poetic documentary, which appeared when documentary cinema experienced a boom not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout the Eastern bloc. A great effort was made to legitimise documentary cinema as a branch of art. Documentary filmmakers worked together with filmmakers from other republics, and their films were shown in cinemas.

In Lithuania, the poetic documentary tradition was formed by Robertas Verba (1932–1994). In his films Senis ir žemė (The Old Man and the Land, 1965), Čiūtyta rūta  (1968) and Šimtamečių godos (The Dreams of the Centenarians, 1969), Verba showed the distinctiveness of the Lithuanian worldview. He often chose older people as his subjects, who talked about their ties with the land, their work, and the beauty of their native land. He also looked at the patriarchal world-view and values of country folk and the values of the countryside, which were being actively destroyed by Soviet propaganda. Verba’s films created a local style of documentary cinema. His use of metaphorical images and minimalistic means of expression, so characteristic of his work, are still alive in Lithuanian documentary cinema today.  

The tradition was continued by Henrikas Šablevičius (1930–2004), Edmundas Zubavičius, Kornelijus and Diana Matuzevičius, and Rimantas Gruodis. In their films in the 1960s and 1970s, these makers of poetic documentaries tried to show the world that was still around them, but which was beginning to disappear. Some did not shy away from mocking ideological dogma, and showed it as a kind of carnival, such as Zubavičius in his Mums nebaisūs jokie priešai (We are not Afraid of any Enemy, 1978). However, various eccentric people were happily chosen as the main characters in both feature and documentary films, people who did not fit into official or normal categories of life. Šablevičius became famous for his portraits of eccentric people in films like Apolinaras, Žiniuonė (The Sorceress) and Kretingos medinukai (Wooden Figurines from Kretinga). Self-taught artists, scientists with an artist's soul and policemen helped him to make the reality look strange, and to highlight its more grotesque side. This is why there are so many metaphors and so much poetic commentary and stylisation in his films.

An Undiagnosed Social Reality

Films of an overtly propagandist nature were made by people who were clearly loyal to communist ideals. They praised figures in the Communist Party, told stories of how Lithuanians supposedly welcomed the Soviet government, and ‘unmasked’ priests in their atheistic films.

However, in the 1970s, a new kind of socially aware documentary began to appear. This was closely associated with Viktoras Starošasand Rimtautas Šilinis. In Starošas’ film Aš myliu direktorę (I Love the Director, 1978), he deals openly with children who have been abandoned by their parents. Šilinis’ Savojo „aš“ beieškant (Looking for Your ‘I’, 1978) and Randas (The Scar, 1985) attempted to discuss juvenile delinquency. Gediminas Skvarnavičius’ satirical films criticised the ‘socialist’ reality in a different way. He analysed the problems of shortage of goods, poor service and even poorly made shoes with a sharp wit in his films Prie mėsos reik drąsos (Meat Requires Courage, 1975), Galėčiau būti apolonu (I Could Have Been Apollo, 1978) and Ko ašaroja Medėja (Why Medea Cries, 1978).

With the beginning of Gorbachev’s perestroika, Saulius Beržinis’ film Vėliava iš plytų (The Brick Flag, 1988) came as a shock. For the first time in a Soviet film, the growing violence in the army was openly talked about. It told the story of a soldier from Lithuania who shot those who abused him. This was one of the first Lithuanian films to be selected directly by international festival organisers without having to go through Moscow.

All the same, the rather sparse analyses of the social environment, as well as social and historical change, are still a weak spot in Lithuanian documentary filmmaking. This is linked to a clear inertia among filmmakers. In the past as well as today, many documentary films have been made which are portraits of historical figures and artists. The portrait genre has proved to be the most durable, both in the mastery of the craft but also unfortunately in the amount of clichés that are used. Over the last few decades, the filmmakers Algirdas Tarvydas, Vytautas Damaševičius and Juozas Matonis have become what we could call cultural chroniclers. The younger generation of directors, including Vytautas V. Landsbergis and Agnė Marcinkevičiūtė, have also joined their ranks. Their films immortalise famous and forgotten cultural figures. One such figure is the stop-motion animator Władysław Starewicz, who has been called Europe’s Walt Disney. He was the subject of the film Vabzdžių dresuotojas (The Bug Trainer, 2008) by Donatas Ulvydas, Rasa Miškinytė, Linas Augutis and Marek Skrobecki.

A Cinema of Change

The period 1985 to 1990 was a time of dramatic change. Not only did censorship collapse, but so did the production and distribution systems. Older filmmakers used the opportunity to talk about the post-war resistance and deportations, which until then had been banned. Many films recorded the national awakening and the Sąjūdis movement. However, these films are at times rather contrived.

The 1990s ushered in a new generation. Young directors declared their views on cinema, and also on reality. The first documentary films by Šarūnas Bartas, Arūnas Matelis, Audrius Stonys and Valdas Navasaitis expressed a turn towards personal cinema. These young directors did not want to identify themselves with an idealised past, or with a present that was becoming more and more of a caricature, which had come about after the country opened up to consumer choice, and was flooded by Western mass culture. Bartas’ film Praėjusios dienos atminimui (In Memory of a Day Gone By, 1990), Matelis’ Dešimt minučių prieš Ikaro skrydį (Ten Minutes before Icarus Flew, 1990), Stonys’ Neregių žemė (Earth of the Blind, 1991) Navasaitis’ Rudens sniegas (Autumn Snow, 1992) and Kornelijus and Diana Matuzevičius’ Iliuzijos (Illusions, 1993) all showed a noticeable desire to speak about existential themes. In these films, questions are asked about loneliness, the meaning of life, and the temporariness of existence. Their world is seen as if through the films’ characters, who have been marginalised by society or history. Their world is empty, dilapidated and collapsing. At the same time, the films are unique inner landscapes of the filmmakers. The directors deal relatively freely with reality, although they do not reject (or accept) the idea of observing it. The static camera likes to record time, and that is precisely what fills the frame all the more frequently, becoming the film's dominant feature.

Unusual experiments with documentary film language did not go unnoticed either: Stonys’ Earth of the Blind received a Felix Award for Best Documentary in Europe in 1992. After 1988, documentary films from Lithuania, which during the Soviet period were rarely shown abroad, have regularly attracted attention at international film events.

The work by the famous avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas had a huge impact during this time of change. His influence can be seen in the films by Artūras Jevdokimovas, Julius Ziz, Algimantas Maceina and Vytautas V. Landsbergis, who worked with him in New York at the beginning of the 1990s. The film Juoda dėžė (The Black Box) by Algimantas Maceina, about the removal of his grandfather’s remains from Siberia to Lithuania, is still one of the most original experiments in Lithuanian documentary film.

New Names, New Ideas

Documentary cinema is changing, because the people who are making it are changing. However, until now the main approach or style that has been used is what is known as artistic documentary cinema. Matelis’ film Prieš parskrendant į Žemę (Before Flying Back to Earth, 2005), which shows the lives of children with leukaemia, won a number of important awards, including the 2006 Directors Guild of America Award for Best Documentary. The film is a meditation on reality and death, and deals with the existence of miracles on earth. Audrius Stonys’ thoughts on history, the body, family and loneliness in his films Ūkų ūkai (Vanity of Vanities, 2006), Varpas (The Bell, 2007), Aš perėjau ugnį, tu buvai su manim (I Walked through Fire, You Were with Me, 2010) and Raminas (Ramin, 2011) show how he delves deeper and deeper into the nature of documentary cinema, and experiments with the genre.

Romas Lileikis immortalises the disappearing local inhabitants of Vilnius’ colourful Užupis neighbourhood in his philosophical films such as K+M+B (2001) and Saša (Sasha, 2006), and he has also directed a film called Dangaus šešėlis (The Shadow of Heaven, 2008) about the unusual story of the descendants of the famous Lithuanian artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, to whom he is also related.

Until independence, Bitė Pajėdienė and Laima Pangonytė were the only two female Lithuanian documentary filmmakers. The last few decades have seen a woman’s point of view represented more often. The highly individual films by Janina Lapinskaitė are distinguished by her main characters, people who are outsiders or who have disabilities, the marginalised, and people living in the provinces. Her Iš elfų gyvenimo (From the Lives of Elves, 1999), Venecijaus gyvenimas ir Cezario mirtis (The Life of Venecijus and Ceasar’s Death, 2002) and Traukinys stovi penkias minutes (The Train Stops for Five Minutes, 2009) opened up worlds that until then had gone unnoticed in Lithuanian cinema. Oksana Buraja courageously takes on all documentary taboos in films like Dienoraštis (Diary, 2004) and Išpažintis(Confession, 2009), while Inesa Kurklietytė’s Moterų paslaptys (Women’s Secrets, 2005) and Lengvas raganavimas (Mild Witchcraft, 2004) deal with the mysteries of birth.

Giedrė Beinoriūtė is constantly searching for new methods of self-expression and themes. The main characters in her films Troleibusų miestas (Trolleybus Town, 2003), Vulkanovka. Po didžiojo kino (Vulkanovka. After the Grand Cinema, 2005) and Gyveno senelis ir bobutė(Once upon a Time there was an Old Man and an Old Woman, 2008) include eccentric fare dodgers on trolleybuses, people living in the Crimean Steppe involved in making a film, and deportees in Siberia who find themselves in a folk tale. Beinoriūtė together with her main characters fills her films with phantasmagoric storylines. In them irony and the grotesque, secrets and the almost unnoticeable scars of the soul all merge.

Lithuanian directors often look at the world through the eyes of those that fate has been unkind to. The main characters in the film Upė(The River, 2010) by Rimantas and Julija Gruodis are people in a village who are cut off from the world by a river. For a number of years, the young director Mindaugas Survila observed homeless people living by a landfill site near Vilnius. His film Stebuklų laukas (The Field of Magic, 2011) shows the everyday lives and the hopes of these people.

The première of Mantas Kvedaravičius’ debut Barzakh (2010) took place at the Berlin International Film Festival, and was the opening film in the Panorama programme. Kvedaravičius, who is an anthropologist and spent some years in Chechnya, looked at people who had disappeared or who had been kidnapped. He has won recognition and prizes  at many festivals for his poetic portrayal of the pain felt by the families left behind, the search for the missing people, and the experience of those who survived.

Giedrė Žickytė’s ironic film Kaip mes žaidėme revoliuciją (How We Played at Revolution, 2011) provoked much discussion in Lithuania. The young director set out to examine the origins of the independence of modern Lithuania, such as the Sąjūdis movement and the Singing Revolution. Her film speaks to the younger generation in the accessible language of images.

Lithuania’s new documentary cinema may appear ambiguous. Directors look for manifestations of spirituality in the lower depths of society. For the meaning of life by recording the flow of everyday reality. For the lessons of history by telling what at first glance look like tall stories about the main characters. Lithuanian documentary filmmakers look at reality as if they are refusing to separate what is temporal from what is eternal. They dive courageously into the flowing river of time. 

Živilė Pipinytė


Cinematic Ambitions and Challenges

Smaller in population than London or New York, and with an economy smaller than that of the State of Bavaria, Lithuania is one of the world’s most modest film production countries. It gets relatively little public funding (mainly administered by the Ministry of Culture and the Lithuanian Film Centre) which explains the small amount of feature films produced. Lithuanian production companies are typically small in size and focus on producing from 1 to 3 feature film projects at a time. The average budget of a local feature movie is between 400,000 Euros and 1,000,000 Euros, which is quite small in comparison with the budget of an average European film. This is because of the modest subsidies for film and because of belonging to a small linguistic market (less than 3.5 million people live in Lithuania), as well as negligible private funding and support by local broadcasters. Therefore, the Lithuanian audiovisual industry depends very much on public funding, co-production with foreign companies and pan-European film support initiatives, such as the MEDIA programme and the Eurimages Fund.

However, these challenges have not stopped Lithuania in its cinematic ambitions to become a vibrant locale for the indigenous film industry and a film culture, as making films requires much more than large populations and enormous financial resources. It needs a unique historic and cultural experience, a rich and expressive language and, as Andrew James Horton argues, 'the essential ingredient of talent'. Actually, the latter in combination with a clear cinematic vision and high professionalism and dedication of the filmmakers precondition the emergence of films of extremely high quality even during economically unfavourable times for the industry.

A perfect example of our filmmakers’ capability to turn out marvellous films without having adequate funding  are the first works of Šarūnas Bartas (Trys dienos (Three Days, 1991)), Koridorius (Corridor,1995) and Few of Us (Mūsų nedaug, 1996)) and Valdas Navasaitis(Kiemas (Courtyard, 1999)), which showed the path for some of the younger filmmakers to follow, namely Ignas Miškinis (Diringas (Diring, 2006)), Kristina Buožytė (Kolekcionierė (The Collectress, 2008)), Emilis Vėlyvis (Zero II, 2010) and some others, whose  low-budget productions raised a significant part of their budget from private sponsors.

Auteur Voices 

It is worth remembering that Lithuanian cinema rose to international prominence with a new (post-Soviet) cinema in the early nineties, which was distinguished and defined by art cinema texts.  Both the state and the film industry had to be re-build after the collapse of the Soviet Union and re-localized on the world map. It should be noted that Lithuanian film quite quickly evolved from being a marginal to a transnational phenomenon due to the sympathy and great interest of prestigious international festivals and the combined efforts of filmmakers-auteurs who had started their careers during the Soviet period in Lithuania (including Vytautas Žalakevičius, Algimantas Puipa, Gytis Lukšas, Janina Lapinskaitė and many others) and those who debuted during the period of political and economical transition in the late eighties and early nineties (such as Šarūnas Bartas, Valdas Navasaitis and Audrius Juzėnas).

In the nineties the films of Šarūnas Bartas (Three Days, Corridor, Few of Us) and Valdas Navasaitis (Courtyard) became a marker of Lithuanian cinematic auteurism, which has been synonymous with the extremes of the art cinema style (the long takes, fragmentary narrative, minimalist acting and use of desolate and vanishing locations as central points of reference in their thematic preoccupations) and rejection of many of the tenets of mainstream filmmaking (a clear plot, action-based narrative, straight-forward characters, etc.).

They both began their careers in documentary filmmaking before migrating to ascetic stylized features, which explains their preferences for a realist approach and interest in the phenomenological exploration of time. The early works, as well as more recent films, namely Laisvė(Freedom, 2000), Septyni nematomi žmonės (Seven Invisible Men, 2005), Eurazijos aborigentas (Eastern Drift, 2010) by Bartas and Perpetuum Mobile (2008) by Valdas Navasaitis, which already contain some genre film (i.e. the crime drama and the road movie) elements are instantly recognizable for their long takes and fluid, sometimes sinuous camera movement, their picturesque  mise-en-scène and ambient sound design; contrasting urban and countryside settings; de-dramatized  narrative structure, and slow camera movements attuned to the traumatic experiences of disaffected, alienated, insular and existentially damaged protagonists facing up the new reality (the transition from the Soviet to the capitalist system) and dealing with traumatic memories from the Soviet past, what often feels like a slowly emerging apocalypse.   

Reflecting the Past 

It should be noted that the Soviet period is one of the most represented in historical Lithuanian cinema, as film directors lived in his time and still have fresh memories about it. Thus historic films came to prominence in the national cinema through the thoroughly personalized  cinematic form, which was used as a certain vehicle for their major concerns and preconditions regarding the situation through which they lived and in which they were living. Gytis Lukšas is perhaps the best director (next to Bartas) to discuss, as his works remain among the most interesting and profound in dealing with the recent Lithuanian past. Lukšas’ Duburys (Vortex, 2009), based on the novel by Romualdas Granauskas, is yet another apocalyptic image of Soviet Lithuania, which reveals the gradual degradation of Soviet citizens, both the colonized (the Lithuanians) and the colonizers (the Russians), as forced deteritorialization and reteritorialization makes people feel rootless and alienated  even in their own country or town. The film is  composed of stylish black and white images, uses mainly long takes for revealing the emptiness and stagnation of the place in which the main protagonist resides and interacts with others. However, the director leaves the viewer (and post-Soviet Lithuania) hope since at the end of the film the main protagonist surfaces from the vortex after trying to drown himself. Other filmmakers, such as Jonas Vaitkus (Vienui vieni (Utterly Alone, 2004)), Kristijonas Vildžiūnas (Kai apkabinsiu tave (Back to Your Arms, 2010)) and Audrius Juzėnas (Ekskursantė (The Excursionist, currently in post-production)) are more explicit in dealing with historical issues in their films (than for example Bartas or Lukšas), and focus on personal rather than collective dramas in their highly visual and emotional cinematic dramas. 

Literary Inspirations 

It is worth noting that national literature is yet another important inspiration for local filmmakers. Adaptations of books by famous Lithuanian writers are among the most popular film genres, which have been brought to the big screen by filmmakers,  e.g. Janina Lapinskaitė'sStiklo šalis (A Land of Glass, 2004), based on a story by the writer Vanda Juknaitė;  Algimantas Puipa's Dievų miškas (Forest of the Gods, 2005), which is based on the novel of Balys Sruoga, and Nuodėmės užkalbėjimas (The Whisper of Sin, 2007) and Miegančių drugelių tvirtovė (Fortress of the Sleeping Butterflies, 2012), both of which were based on the literary work of Jurga Ivanauskaitė; Gytis Lukšas' already mentioned film Vortex (2009), based on the novel by Romualdas Granauskas; Donatas Ulvydas' Tadas Blinda. Pradžia(Tadas Blinda: The Legend is Born, 2011), inspired by Rimantas Šavelis' novel. This film genre is the most admired by the local audience and the statistics prove this. For example, in 2005 the feature film Forest of the Gods climbed to the top of the domestic box office (186,523 Euros) and was viewed by approximately 650,000 cinema goers while Tadas Blinda. The Legend is Born broke all the records for attendance in Lithuania in 2011, surpassing even the American blockbuster Avatar with a box office of over 1 million Euros.

Generic Games 

The recent Lithuanian cinema, specially produced by younger filmmakers, has become increasingly preoccupied with interrogating and adapting, and absorbing generic templates, themselves borrowed from Hollywood cinematic models and Western popular cinema. However, these films not only incorporate certain genre conventions, but also art cinema in general. The attractiveness of the generic formula to the young generation of filmmakers is evident – genre films tend to be suitable for dealing with current issues of modern life in Lithuania (migration, alienation, new forms of sexuality, cultural diversity, the emancipation of women, the expansion of the black market, etc.), to be cool to appeal to a young audience, and have the potential to cross over the national border.

The economic development of Lithuania and the triumph of a capitalist modernity with all its advantages and disadvantages and new heroes (all kinds of dealers, a new creative class, gamblers, businesswomen, pop-stars, etc.)  suddenly occupied the Lithuanian screen. Very visibly in the films of the 2000s, the city and urbanness in general have finally assumed a kind of cultural and ideological dominance. Several films, such as the drama Nuomos sutartis (The Lease, 2002) by Kristijonas Vildžiūnas, the films Diringas (Diring, 2006) and Artimos šviesos (The Low Lights, 2009) by Ignas Miškinis, the black comedies Zero (2006) and Zero II (2010) by Emilis Vėlyvis,  Valdas Navasaitis’ criminal drama Perpetuum Mobile (2008), the musical comedy 5 dienų avantiūra (Five-Day Adventure, 2008) by Žeraldas Povilaitis, the psychological drama Kolekcionierė (The Collectress, 2008) by Kristina Buožytė, Nereikalingi žmonės (Loss, 2008) by Maris Martinsons, sci-fi melodrama in Saulius Drunga's directorial debut feature Anarchija Žirmūnuose (Anarchy in Žirmūnai, 2010) and Kristina Buožytė's Aurora (Vanishing Waves, 2012), as well as the musical drama Narcizas (Narcissus, 2012) by Dovilė Gasiūnaitė, are marked with an attempt to visualize the city since Vilnius (and the city in general) had been a ‘missing discourse‘ in Lithuanian literary and visual culture for a while. It should be noted that the city in these films is a city of the imagination that film directors (and city dwellers) inhabit and which inhabits them.

Transnational Gestures 

Due to the generic, stylistic and thematic diversity and dynamism of transnational collaborative practices of the local cinema, it is becoming more internationalized and successful in attracting international funders, promoters and an audience. International collaboration is getting more important in producing features with a higher production value and easier access to international markets. Among the most successful recent international co-productions are Kai apkabinsiu tave (Back to Your Arms) directed by Kristijonas Vildžiūnas, coproduced by Studio Uljana Kim (Lithuania), Studio TOR (Poland), and Studio Pola Pandora Film, (Germany); Eastern Drift directed by Šarūnas Bartas, coproduced by Kino Bez Granits (Russia), Lazennec Films (France), Studio Kinema (Lithuania) which premiered at the Berlinale Berlin International Film Festival in 2009; Vanishing Waves,  jointly made by Temora (Lithuania), Acajou Films (France) and internationally premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2012. The internationalization of  the Lithuanian film industry made the films more successful in crossing national borders and attracting international film festivals such as the Cannes International Film Festival (Seven Invisible Men in 2005 and You Am I in 2006), The Berlin Film Festival (Eastern Drift, 2010), the Montreal World Film Festival (Loss in 2008, Vortex in 2009, ), the International Film Festival Rotterdam (You am I in 2007, Perpetuum Mobile in 2008),  the Cairo International Film Festival, (Perpetuum Mobile in 2008, Loss in 2008), the Shanghai Film Festival (Loss, 2008), the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (A Land of Glass in 2005, The Collectress in 2009, The Low Lights in 2009, Vanishing Waves in 2012), the Edinburgh International Film Festival (The Vortex, 2009), the Palm Springs International Film Festival (Vortex in 2009, the Loss in 2009), and the Tallinn Black Nights Film festival (Eastern Drift, 2010, Back to Your Arms, 2010, Tadas Blinda. The Legend is Born, 2011), among many others.

To sum up, notably from the nineties up till now Lithuanian filmmakers have continued to tread a cinematic path between, on the one hand, extreme auteurist films like Bartas' Freedom or Seven Invisible Men, which easily gain international visibility, and, on the other hand, so called “audience” film by producing best-selling literary adaptations like Fortress of the Sleeping Butterflies or black comedies like Zero II, which have pulling power at the box-office. 

Renata Šukaitytė 


The growing popularity of short films is proven not only by the attention they have received from local audiences, but also by the accolades they have won at international film festivals. They are usually the work of beginning directors or students, and stand out with their unusual style, their search for different forms, and their attempts to express their directors’ intentions.

A new and ambitious generation of filmmakers who are employing clearly defined principles in their work are examining themes connected to the realities of life in their country, turning to the recent past, and trying to sum up the present in a concise way. One of the most interesting films of recent years is Jau puiku tik dar šiek tiek (It would Be Splendid, Yet..., 2009) by Lina Lužytė, which won prizes at festivals in Germany, Monaco, Poland and Azerbaijan. The story, which is brief but encompasses a lot in its meaningful nuances, describes the attempts of ordinary people to adapt to the new economic and political circumstances. The early years of independence (1992) are recreated by employing accurate details and subtle irony. At the same time, the question is formulated: how do you find your identity in a state of freedom, having emerged from a repressive regime?

Echoes of the Soviet period in contemporary society, the spread of popular culture, personal relationships dominated by envy: all these are issues that the new generation of directors is concerned with. One of them is Andrius Blaževičius; in his graduation film Bergenas(Bergen, 2009) and his second film Dešimt priežasčių (Ten Reasons, 2011), he contrasts people of different generations and experience, and examines the influence of mobile technology and television shows.

Childhood memories are often a source of inspiration for the acclaimed director Giedrė Beinoriūtė. She has made a number of documentary and short feature films, such as Mama, tėtis, brolis, sesė (Mummy, Daddy, Brother, Sister, 1999) and Egzistencija (Existence, 2004), in which there is an intermingling of seriousness and irony in an environment that is full of paradoxes. Her 2008 film Balkonas (The Balcony) was recognised as the best Lithuanian short film, and won a Silver Crane Award. The friendship between two children who begin talking on neighbouring balconies develops in the somewhat nostalgic atmosphere of the 1980s, in which details from the Soviet period, such as matching uniforms, and similar interiors, cars and blocks of flats, are important.

The famous playwright and director Marius Ivaškevičius chooses the father as the central figure for his films Mano tėvas (My Father, 2007) and Tėve mūsų (Our Father, 2010). The strength of his films is in the dramatic composition and the psychological portraits of the characters. Our Father, which is based on a true story of a daughter who was imprisoned and abused by her father, received the Young Jury Award at the Tous Courts d’Aix-en-Provence International Cinema Film Festival, as well as the prize for Best Short Film at the 2011 Kinoshok Film Festival in Russia.

New intonations and a widening array of genres are gradually appearing in short films. Jūratė Samulionytė’s experimental work Nerutina(No Routine, 2008) stands out with its rebellious attitude and the distinctive techniques used. It is the first and the only photofilm to receive a Silver Crane Award, and has been shown at more than 20 international film festivals. The separately photographed frames and the animation created by using stop-motion are combined to make a film story about a middle-aged office worker called Henrikas. The objects around him try to help him break free. However, very few Lithuanian short films are comedies or experimental films. Directors avoid new visual declarations when trying to put together a tight and concise plot, and portray the experiences and the inner states of the leading characters. The films Aš tave žinau (I Know You, 2009) and Nesiseka šiandien (Not Lucky Today, 2010) by Dovilė Šarutytė are marked by their more complex plots and elaborate filming techniques, as well as by their hints of documentary reality. Each of them won a Silver Crane Award as Best Short Film of the year.

Auksė Kancerevičiūtė


Animation  occupies a comparatively small place in the cultural life of Lithuania; however, it stands out with its unusual form of stylistic expression and the sensitively subject matter.

The place of contemporary animation in the cultural market is changing rapidly, as fewer animation films are being made, while animation itself is becoming more and more a component of other kinds of visual art. Today animation content is flourishing in advertisements and on the internet, it is being used for games and mobile telephone programmes, and it is also becoming part of visual design. A good number of music videos are being made in Lithuania using 3D, as well as simple 2D animation. Pictures are made into animation, and filmmakers experiment with stop-motion methods to animate live characters. 

The  Beginning of Animation in Lithuania

Władysław Starewicz began working with film and animation in Kaunas. In 1910, he filmed the first puppet animation film, called Lucanus Cervus. He began to film another five animation films, which he was to finish only later in Moscow. True animation classics appeared on the big screen between 1910 and 1913, including The Beautiful Lukanida, The Cameraman’s Revenge, The Insects’ Christmas and Insects’ Aviation Week. Starewicz is also considered to be the founder of Russian animation.

In 1937, the artist Petras Aleksandravičius, together with the camera operator Stasys Vainalavičius, filmed one of the first advertising animation films, called Du litu – laimingas medžiotojas (Two Litas - a Happy Hunter), which was devoted to the lottery run by the Young Lithuania National Youth Union.

After Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union, animators worked at the Moscow-based Soyuzmultfilm, an animation studio. It was there that Gražina Brašiškytė made drawings for the animation films The Enchanted Boy (1955), The Dragon (1961) and Cockroach (1964). She also created the set and characters for Gintarinė pilis (The Amber Castle, 1960, directed by Aleksandra Sniezhko-Blotskaya, with a script by Regina Januškevičienė and music by Julius Juzeliūnas), which is based on a Lithuanian folk legend.

The first hand-drawn animation film by Lithuanian animators was made only in 1966. The director Zenonas Tarakevičius created the film Vilkas ir siuvėjas (The Wolf and the Tailor) at the Banga Film Studio of the Kaunas Radio Factory. A few years later, the Commissioned Films Studio was established in Vilnius. It was not subject to ideological guidelines and did not receive state funding. The director Juozas Sakalauskas made the following animation films there: Ežio namas (A Hedgehog’s Home, commissioned by the Firefighters’ Union, 1968), Telesforas gatvėje (Telesphorus on the Street, commissioned by VAI, 1970), and Gera turėti draugų (It’s Good to Have Friends, commissioned by the Soviet Union's Society for Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, 1971). He also made the animation film Strakalas ir Makalas (Strakalas and Makalas, 2007) together with Valentas Aškinis at the Filmų štrichų studio. The director Antanas Janauskas made the animation film Iniciatyva (Initiative, 1970) at the Lithuanian Film Studios. However, animation did not manage to take hold at the state-run studio. No animation films were produced at the Lithuanian Film Studios until right up to1983.

Contemporary Lithuanian Animation: The Professionals Making Animation Films
One of the pioneers in the development of new Lithuanian animation was the director and graphic artist Nijolė Valadkevičiūtė. She made her first film Medis (The Tree, 1983) using cut-out animation. Later, she made an animation film every year, an enviable rate, including Mįslė (The Riddle, 1984), Jūratė ir Kastytis (Jūratė and Kastytis, 1989), Laimės Žiburys (The Light of Happiness, 1990), Košmariškas sapnas (A Nightmare 1995), Edeno sodas (The Garden of Eden, 2007), and Aš esu (I Am, 2012). In her work, animation is a space for experimentation, where abstract ideas, such as waiting and hope, make an expressive graphic statement. Her graphic style is highly individual, and a drastic graphic form of cinema often frees itself from a standard plot, leaving us to delight in the pictures, as if we are in an interactive gallery.

The beginning of contemporary drawing animation at the Lithuanian Film Studios is closely associated with the caricaturists Ilja Bereznickas and Zenonas Šteinys, who after attending an advanced directing course in Moscow returned to Lithuania in 1985. Bereznickas’ graduation animation film was Paskutinė dovana (The Last Present, 1985), followed by Baubas (The Hobgoblin, 1986), which was perhaps the most popular Lithuanian animated film at that time. His other films include Bermudų žiedas (The Bermuda Ring, 1988), Senelis ir senelė (Grandpa and Grandma, 1999) and Baubo aritmetika (The Hobgoblin's Arithmetic, 2004). Bereznickas’ work is characterised by its humorous style, instructive ideas , and bright colours. His films are usually intended for children.

After Šteinys’ graduation film Buvo, buvo, kaip nebuvo (It Was, It Was, How Couldn’t It Have Been, 1986), he made films at the Lithuanian Film Studios, including Dosnumas (Generosity, 1988), Kadaise Lietuvoje (Once Upon a Time in Lithuania, 1990) and Batas (The Shoe, 1996), which was finished by others after his death. He looked first and foremeost for meaning, philosophical subtexts and depth of thought in his animated films, often concentrating on images with a caricature-like flair, and spurned detail in order to make the main idea clear. His animation films are steeped in a metaphysical and contemplative mood. The film Generosity, which is based on the folk tale ‘The Generous Apple Tree’, reveals the four stages of a person’s life, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. The restrained colours and the flowing pictures create a very distinctive atmosphere.

After a 16-year break, the director Antanas Janauskas once again began to make animated films. His animation film Antspaudas (The Stamp, a joint production between the Lithuanian Film Studios and Mosfilm) came out in 1986, while Palankios aplinkybės (Favourable Conditions, Lithuanian Film Studios) appeared in 1989. He made the films Telegastrovizija (Telegastrovision, 2000) and Trumpas sujungimas (Short Circuit, 2003) at his own studio  AJ. They are optimistic stories full of paradoxes, in which the same character travels from one film to another, experiencing an overwhelming conflict with his surroundings. The character embodies the director and his ideas. The animation film Urzgianti pagalvė (The Growling Pillow) tells a story about people who have an idea that is so powerful it could blow them right off the face of the earth. In the film Smalsi moteriškė (The Nosey Woman), which foreign agencies have expressed an interest in, Janauskas deals with a struggle which, it seems, has dragged on and will never end, even though centuries have passed and the world has changed.

In the same productive year of 1986, the director Valentas Aškinis made the classic hand-drawn television lullaby Dėdė Miegas (Uncle Sleep, LTV, The Commissioned Films Studio). Later, he made Kaktuso paslaptis (Mystery of the Cactus, 1989, a joint production between the Lithuanian Film Studios and Mosfilm), in which he harmoniously combined graphics made up of black-and-white lines and a visual plasticity with original music by Faustas Latėnas. In 1991, together with Antanas Abromaitis, with whom he established the Vilanima Animation Film Studio, he made the animated films Trovas (Trove, 1992), Smaugliukas Džeikas (Jake the Snake, 1993),  Meškinai - pasaulio gelbėtojai (Global Bears Rescue, 1997) and Normano arka (Norman’s Ark, 1995, 13 15-minute episodes), which was the first Lithuanian drawn animation film series. Soon afterwards, the animated film Odisėja (The Odyssey, 1998, artist Jolanta Šiugždaitė, new version The Destruction of Troy and the Adventures of Odysseus) appeared, which was the first full-length animation feature film made in Lithuania, a film version of the ancient masterpiece by Homer, about love, sacrifice, loyalty, as well as the travels,  and heroic adventures of Greek warriors on the seas and on magical islands. This animation film was made using the classic method of celluloid animation. In his latest animation film Senelės pasaka (Granny’s Tale, 2012), Aškinis together with Jūratė Leikaitė adapted a poem by the popular Lithuanian poet Salomėja Nėris for the big screen.

The director Henrikas Vaigauskas made the animated films Medkirtys (The Woodcutter, 1991), Aeroplanas (Airplane, 1997),  Jūros draugas (The Friend of the Sea, 1999) and Piratai (Pirates, 2005) at the Lithuanian Film Studios after the country became independent. His animated films are characterised by extreme simplicity of plot, clear colours, funny gags, and the visual style of children’s comic books.

The director Jūratė Leikaitė debuted in 1996, with a striking and bold animation film for adults called Metamorfozės (Metamorphoses), and later began making animation for children. In this way, several films were born one after another: Braškės ant eglės (Strawberries on a Christmas Tree, 1999), a trilogy about a snail called Maiva, consisting of Sraigė Maiva (Maiva the Snail, 2000), Svajonių bokštas (The Tower of Dreams, 2001) and Solistė (The Soloist, 2002), along with the animation film 100 klausimų apie pasaulį. Lietus (One Hundred Questions about the World. Rain, 2003). A new stage in her work began with the film Paparčio žiedas (The Fern Blossom, 2003). Among her creative interpretations of Lithuanian legends, celebrations and traditions at Filmų štrichų studios, Leikaitė made Užgavėnės(Shrovetide, 2005), the most acclaimed animation film, which has garnered the most awards both at home and abroad. She also made the animated film Marti iš jaujos (The Bride from the Barn, 2006) in the style of black and white graphic art. The film Margučių rytas (Easter Morning, 2007) uses drawings and photographs, while Šokančios Vilniaus verbos (Dancing Easter Palms of Vilnius, with Valentas Aškinis, 2010) uses documentary material and animation. In 2011, she also made the animation film Taip Laima lėmė (Laima Determines the Destiny). Her animation films are closely linked to Lithuanian folklore, folk tales and myths, and are distinguished by playfulness, a distinctive style of narration, and stylistic experimentation.

The director Ieva Bunokaitė also makes films with mixed techniques based on Lithuanian folk tales. She has boldly combined cut-out animation, ceramic puppets, woven textiles, thread, flowers and various dried materials in her animated films Gudri duktė (A Smart Daughter, Lithuanian Film Studios,1995), Lapė ir vynuogės (The Fox and the Grapes, Vilanima, 1996) and Bičių piemuo (The Bee Shepherd, Lithuanian Film Studios, 1999). She made the film Aš einu pas tave (I’m Coming to You, Vilanima, 2002) using photographic animation. She brought to the big screen Jeronimas Laucius’ story about a witch, a girl, beauty and love, in the film Grožio paslaptis (The Secret of Beauty, 2009) using ceramic puppets.

The directors Aurika and Algirdas Selenis made their first film Arkliavagio gudrybė (The Horse Thief’s Trickery, 1998) at the Lithuanian Film Studios. They returned to the theme in Čigonas ir drakonas (The Gypsy and the Dragon, 2006), which they made at their own studio, Animacijos studija. Their films are playful, they present paradoxical situations, and have a didactic nature. In 2000, they began creating a series of films based on Lithuanian legends and folk tales, including Vilniaus mergelė (Vilnius Maiden, 2000), Neringa (2001), Žemaitė - Žemaičių pramotė (Žemaitė - The Proto-Mother of the Samogitians, 2002), Eglė žalčių karalienė (Eglė, the Queen of the Grass Snakes, 2003), Lietuvių mitologiniai dievai (Lithuanian Mythological Gods, 2006) and Lietuvių mitologinės būtybės (Lithuanian Mythological Creatures, 2008). Their earlier films are characterised by expressiveness both in the graphics and the colours, and by symbolism. In their later films the technique of successive phases of motion (where an image gradually disappears and is replaced by another in one second or less)  is used, the animation is more stylised, and the works are constructed not so much as a synthesis of movement and narration, but as a renewal of images and moving cinematic pictograms.

The directors Šarūnas Jakštas, Vitalijus Suchockis and Juras Visockis have made animation films in the style of caricature. Algirdas Šimkus and Saulius Tamošaitis have made several animation films with puppets. Artūras Bukauskas is involved in making computer animation films. His earlier work includes Telefono linija (The Telephone Line, 1991) and Lopšinė miestui (A Lullaby for the City, 1995).

The New Generation of Directors Speak Out Loudly and Clearly Through Their Films
The young generation of directors tell Lithuanian folk tales and also their own tales in their animated films. They delve into universal questions of freedom and analyse sensitive issues in the relationship between themselves, the generations and the genders.

With expressive graphics and a Kafkaesque style, the film Tiltas (The Bridge) by Ieva Miškinytė deals with issues of human existence; her new film Saga (The Button) examines stories about people and objects in which people wander, dream, search for something, long to discover, and long to be discovered. It is a deep allegorical story about buttons that are lost and found, and all of the invisible threads that bind them. Meanwhile, the sensitive and poetic film Vaikystės dienoraštis (Diary of Childhood) by Antanas Skučas tells the story of how a small girl gets well, and the child’s special relation with nature.

Urtė Budinaitė made the symbolic-allegorical story Nepriklausomybės diena (Independence Day, 2012) at the Vilanima Film Studio. It is about a musician who escapes from a radio, a ship that crashes into a sugar spoon and sinks, the lost hopes of finding love on the other side of a door with a little heart, and finding a lost hat. A common thread running through all these stories is freedom. Budinaitė’s animated film style is similar to caricature, with the characters portrayed in a humorous way. She does not give priority to the plot, but to the relationships between the characters and their emotions, which are highlighted by using a background that is simple, monochromatic, and not overburdened with detail.

For the film Tiulis (The Tulle Curtain) by the young directors Darius Jaruševičius and Inna Šilina, they chose to use a style of graphic design similar to that of children’s drawings. The film delves into the global problem of war. There is an allusion to the Berlin Wall, which is embodied by a light tulle curtain with a dotted pattern of a mushroom cloud, dividing an area into two parts, in which different metamorphoses occur: a tulle curtain with concrete arches greets a poet, wraps a tank wrapped in a wedding veil, and turns into a barricade, canons and a place where ice fishing takes place.  

One of the most striking student films of recent years is by Skirma Jakaitė. Her animated film Galim susitikti, galim nesusitikti (We Might Meet, We Might Not, 2011) tells a story about being a teenager, and the close and fragile ties between people who are very close. It is driven by constant doubt, fear, distrust, hope and disappointment. The constantly flickering black-and-white graphics, the total animation and the meaningful introduction of  spots of colour all create a mood of emotion and extreme anxiety that does an excellent job of expressing the main idea of the film.

The graphics in films by the director and book illustrator Rasa Jonikaitė are similar to illustrations for children’s books. The animation film Uodega (The Tail, 2007) recounts the adventures on a fishing trip taken by a wolf and a fox, while Brolis Bebe (Brother Bebe, 2009) is a story that teaches goodness, love and caring for each other. The decorative style of her films, the combination of lively and colourful characters, together with cut-out animation and a cheerful musical background, create a folk-tale atmosphere.

Vladislav Berezhok made the good-humoured and light-hearted animation film Zuikio kopūstai (Rabbit Cabbage). It is an unusual folk tale that tells the story of the origin of wood sorrel (‘rabbit cabbage’ is a literal translation of the term in Lithuanian), using plasticine animation and colourful characters.

Films by the young generation of directors Monika Žeknytė, Justina Švambarytė, Jūratė Gečaitė, Sigita Kučikaitė, Reda Bartkutė, Greta Stančiauskaitė, Meinardas Valkevičius and Vita Lažinskaitė are all marked by a distinctively individual touch.

Valentas Aškinis