INTERVIEW: Cinematic Inclusions | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image from the film Time Passes The City (A. Grikevičius, 1966) before and after restoration

Cinematic Inclusions is a rare and exciting Lithuanian film programme brought and curated by Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė, a cinema historian and a co-founder of Meno Avilys – Mediatheque, the first cinematheque in Lithuania. On Friday 8th and Saturday 9th March Lina will present a number of newly digitised and restored Lithuanian documentary and experimental films spanning years between 1962 – 1994 at the Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle. We caught up with the people bringing it all together to find out more.

Can you tell us about the upcoming programme?

Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė: 

Parts I & II of the programme are comprised of digitally restored documentaries, which my colleagues from NGO Meno Avilys and I collected for restoration. We initiated the restoration process 7 years ago when the cinema was transformed by the transition from analogue to digital formats. For Lithuanian cinema history, this transition was very painful; many films had few – or zero – analogue copies and there were no labs where it would be possible to make new ones. For most films this situation meant oblivion, so we decided to bring international experience in film digitisation and restoration to Lithuania.  At that time, it was the cheapest and easiest way to extend the lives of these films. We wanted to show fellow Lithuanians that we have a rich and interesting cinematic history and to give an international audience access to unknown and still overlooked film cultures of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

Janina Sabaliauskaitė: 

Part III, of the programme is dedicated to remembering Jonas Mekas, Lithuanian-born American filmmaker who was often called ‘the godfather of American avant-garde cinema’, who passed away recently at 96 years old. Douglas Gordon’s 2016 film I Had Nowhere To Go is a first hand account of the life, thoughts and feelings of a displaced person. It’s a painful record of one person’s experiences in a Nazi forced labour camp; five years in displaced persons camps; and the first years as a young Lithuanian immigrant in New York City. It’s a story of exile and survival, recounting early years of a seminal avant-garde fillmmaker.

What makes these films stand out?

Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė:

For the first two parts of the programme Janina & I chose two main standpoints: tradition and experiment. 

The first part of the program shows the films which represent the origins and continuity of Lithuanian poetic documentary tradition of which Lithuanians are very proud. This tradition formed during the early sixties – a period when, both the strongly ethnographical, anti-modern movement and cinematic influences of western documentary filmmaking (I mean Cinéma vérité), mixed with Soviet montage school. Rural landscapes, ethnographic perspective and nostalgia combined with the search for a modern film language, which makes those films unique and sensitive documents of the time. They focus on people and their experiences which were bypassed and overlooked by official narratives.

The programme’s second part, on experiments, shows attempts to break with the canon of filmmaking during Soviet and post-Soviet periods. It can sound crazy now, but during the Soviet period, all artistic experiments as any kind of criticism of authorities were prohibited and censored, so any attempt at non-conventional expression was very daring and risky. We wanted to show those few examples and to remember the braveness of filmmakers. Films made in the early nineties are made in an absolutely different context (regained political and artistic independence), a new generation of filmmakers got the opportunity to go abroad and to learn new ways of filmmaking.  I mean the direct influence of Jonas Mekas and the Anthology Film Archives where they encountered their first non-conventional film experiences. In other words, those films are rare and interesting examples of documentary cinema which formed under the limited conditions of freedom and exploration.

Janina Sabaliauskaitė:

The programme’s third part is Douglas Gordon’s 2016 film I Had Nowhere To Go; a sound-based portrait of Jonas Mekas. Gordon recorded Jonas Mekas reading from his autobiographical novel of the same name and from there Gordon assembled the most important steps in Jonas’ life and the most emotional situations. Gordon composed a few pictures among the black on the screen and Frank Kruse designed the sound.

As the director puts it: “The presence of the authentic voice of the man himself will inject a deeply personal tone and provoke powerful responses among audiences. But the complexities and time involved in capturing this footage should not be underestimated. Call it the redemptive power of art, or maybe just the human condition, but in a world where displacement is a fact of life, the Jonas Mekas story has something to say to us all. […] The architecture of the film is through the narrative. The architecture is the voice. The addition to the architecture are the images”.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė:

I am a cinema and media historian, my PhD thesis was based on the reconstruction of Lithuanian film production context during the Soviet period.  Now I am working on a postdoctoral comparative research project on cinema and Baltic societies. I am interested in how cinema, as a medium, was used by political forces as propaganda and how cinema was consumed by societies both in everyday life and popular culture. As a scholar, it is very important for me to combine academic knowledge with practical work and value; the documentary restoration project was a first attempt at doing this. Currently, with colleagues from academia and filmmaking, we are working on a feminist film research project. I see it as an attempt to combine research skills and feminist activism.

Janina Sabaliauskaitė:

I am a photographic artist, collaborator and curator based in the North East of England. 

How did you go about pulling this programme together?

Janina Sabaliauskaitė:

I met Lina a few years ago in Nida, Lithuania, at an International Photography Symposium where she presented a series of newly restored and digitised films from the Meno Avilys archive.From then on I wanted to work with Lina and learn more about Lithuanian cinema history and co – programme further cinema screenings in Newcastle.

Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė:

I was very happy to get Janina’s invitation to curate this program together.

What are you looking forward to most about this?

Lina Kaminskaitė – Jančorienė:

I am very excited about the screenings at Star and Shadow cinema and very much looking forward to the discussions with people after the screenings. The moment when people share their different thoughts and experiences of film is, for me, most important. I feel that when films, which were unavailable for years for varying reasons, finally reach an audience, filmmakers can find their peace.

Janina Sabaliauskaitė:

I am very happy that Lina is going to be present during these three days, introducing all of the screenings and participating at Q&A sessions and that she will share her broad knowledge, expertise and years of research in Lithuanian cinema with the wider public. Everyone is welcome to join!

Part I takes place on Friday 8th of March. 6.30 pm and is Documentary Traditions in Lithuanian Cinema. Full details are in the Facebook event here.

Part II takes place on Saturday 9th March. 6.30 pm and is Experiments in Lithuanian Documentary Cinema. Full details are in the Facebook event here.

Part III takes place on Sunday 10th of March. 2 pm and is Importance of Jonas Mekas (1922-2019). Full details are in the Facebook event here.

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