Film: Lithuania Is A Strategic Partner In Halifax


Oct 23 2014

By Sydney Levine

This year I attended Strategic Partners, a coproduction event held
in Halifax just after TIFF. The degree of intimacy and friendliness
makes it ideal for networking. There I met Kestutis Drazdauskas, a
producer from Lithuania, attending SP for the third time. Aside from
producing, over the last few years as Business Development Director,
he has also created the Vilnius Film Cluster.

He has been in film professionally since 1995, when he was 2nd AD on
“Undertow” by Eric Red, working his way up through television, where
his fourth film in 1999 was Donna Dietch’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic”
which she shot in Lithuania. He was the Coordinating Assistant
Director. In 1999, he produced his first short film, “The Officer’s
Romance” by Vytautas V. Landsbergis and since then he has produced
several more shorts. In 2006 he produced his first feature film,
“Diring”. Since then he has produced or exec produced five films and
is working on his sixth, “2 Nights Till Morning” about a one-night
stand between two strangers without a common language which takes an
unexpected turn when an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland prevents
all flights from taking off.

As an independent film producer must do, Kestutis wears several hats.

Since 2003 he has been producing commercials for his bread and butter.

But for his heart and soul,even in the 90s, he produced features. This
was a difficult and expensive endeavor in his home country of Lithuania
because there was no funding or infrastructure after the collapse
of the Soviet film industry. To make movies, one had to bring in
all the equipment from abroad. There were no labs so film had to be
transported to Prague or Warsaw for processing.

He and his partners began investing in Cinevera – today the largest
lighting and grips company providing the Baltic region. Then they moved
on to Cinescope, the largest camera rental outlet in the Baltics. And
then they went into set construction. In 2011 they formed the Vilnius
Film Cluster, which today is comprised of three production companies,
several service companies, a film festival Kino Pavasaris (Vilnius
International Film Festival) and a film news portal,

Several projects are still in the works, like a 1,100 square meter
stage which will include the largest green screen in the Baltics,
make up and wardrobe studios, and production offices.

Vilnius Film Cluster is going to digitize 30 screens in small towns
throughout Lithuania which will develop new audiences. The country
itself has 40 screens which are city-centered multiplexes which show
Lithuanian films along with the usual fare of U.S. blockbusters. The
average run for Lithuanian films is two weeks. There is no special
treatment for Lithuanian films, but there is a need. People like
hearing their own language and seeing themselves on screen. Out of
250 films released in a year only 10 are Lithuanian but they account
for a market share of 12 to 15%. The countryside has not been totally
bereft of films. Theaters and cultural centers in small towns have big
venues, but not a lot of content aside from plays and concerts show
there. Going digital in municipalities will result in job creation.

The Vilnius Film Cluster will supply equipment and content. This
project will take three years to complete. Spreading cinema into the
countryside will improve the market share of domestic films.

The idea and implementation of this added value for European content
network of cinemas was developed with the help of SOFA, a two year-old
initiative creating a school of film agents founded by Nikolaj Nikitin
(a delegate of the Berlinale). They are building with the European
subsidy system which furnishes 50% of the financing. The other 50%
is split, 30% private equity and 20% Lithuanian government funding.

European Union structural funding goes in seven year terms. The new,
2014 to 2020 cycle is beginning now for member states. In 2016,
the new cinemas will be open for business.

Lithuania is the leader in Baltics. Latvia has a related language,
but people from one country do not understand people from the other
country. Estonia has an entirely different language, related to
Finnish. So the Baltics is more of a geo-political entity rather than
a cultural unit.

They don’t really share cultures though ideally they do cooperate and
share knowledge and initiatives. For example, Vilnius Film Cluster
is consulting with Estonian colleagues who are trying to establish
a similar cluster. However, there are more coproductions with
Germany than with Latvia or Estonia. More productions are becoming
international rather than locally centered on Lithuania.

Although there are subsidies to be found for filmmaking, there are
no subsidies for distribution. There is much to do in education and
audience building.

At present Kestutis is copoducing “2 Nights Till Morning”, a Finnish
Lithuanian coproduction shooting in Vilnius, it stars Marie-Josee
Croze star of “Tell No One”, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and
“Barbarian Invasions” for which she won the Palme d’or in 2003 and
which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature.

Kestutis is also developing two more features. One is by the Italian
director, Gianluca Sodaro. They made the short ” God’s Got His Head
in the Clouds” together, and this new film is an elaboration of it,
dealing with matters of faith and a priest experiencing a crisis. As
he journeys to renew his faith he meets people who have counterparts in
biblical characters. It is funny and contemporary. They are finalizing
the script now to shoot next year. The feature is called “Solo”.

Another film currently in development is an Armenian film “The Last
Inhabitant”, written and directed by Jivan Avetisyan.

His feature, “Tevanik” premiered in May in Armenia. This will be his
second. It is situated in the Nagorny Karabakh region which is mostly
Armenian, but was incorporated by Stalin into Azerbaijan. After the
Soviet collapse the Armenians declared independence. Officially the
region is still at status of war, but there has been no military
action for 20 years. It is, in fact, protected by Russian forces.

Avetisyan was 15 when the war happened. There are lots of stories
about people in the war, and the film is very humanistic. His first
film was about three teenagers who become adults over night. This
new one is about two people, one Azerbaijan, one Armenian who forced
to help each other, although one dies in process. The story has
resonance today. It has Armenian funding and will raise more through
its Lithuanian partners. The films are shot on small budgets; his
first was US $250,000 with lots of equipment, tanks, etc. donated as
in-kind contributions. This film will be presented at coproduction
forums, like Strategic Partners, East Meets West in Karlovy Vary. It
has a larger budget (but is still comparatively small) and requires
three or four coproducing partners.

We hope to see this feature and more coming out of Lithuania. We know
we will see Kestutis a lot more around the circuit.

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