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, kinfo.lt/.
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-Josée 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.