Silvija Vilkaitė is a film editor who worked on many well-known Lithuanian films, such as “The Saint”, “Nova Lituania”, “How to Be A Human”, and “Slow”. According to Silvija, who was recently awarded the “Silver Crane” prize, the task of the film editor is much more than just preparing the final conversion of the raw footage. Silvija explains that this profession requires a lot of empathy, patience, and the ability to accept emerging emotions.

At this year’s national film awards, you were awarded the “Silver Crane” for supervising the editing of “Slow”. What was special and unique about this project for you?

One aspect that made the film unique was that it was shot using 16 mm film which allows you to get very close to the camera and be right next to the characters. Moreover, there were those beautiful pastel colors, the physicality, and all the great work of artists and costume designers, which helped to bring the idea proposed by director Marija Kavtaradze to life. The amazing work of the actors created a magical feeling, it seemed as if anytime walking in Vilnius I could meet the film’s characters Elena and Dovydas. I felt the same way when I edited Andrius Blaževičius’s film “The Saint” and unintentionally started imitating the actor Marius Repšys’ way of speaking and mannerisms. These are examples of the occasions when everything seems so real that you can no longer distinguish between real life and the film.

Now you have been working in the film industry for several years. How did you begin and was editing your first choice?

It all started at school, when various student groups and clubs were emerging, and some of us came up with the idea of making a show for teenagers. I ended up with the director Danuta Keturakytė, in the show “Plus and Minus”. Coincidentally, that year LMTA was organizing a director’s course and I decided to apply, even though earlier I had been considering studying chemistry. I was accepted in both study programs, but I chose film direction. After getting my bachelor’s degree, I worked as the director of MTV shows and various commercials. Later, a master’s degree program in film editing appeared at LMTA; I took it and finished my postgraduate studies. I always liked this somewhat more introverted profession, as I realized that I don’t feel well in film sets, where people are always in a hurry and get angry often. When I’m editing, I do what I like the most and I feel like I am where I belong.

What is the most difficult, most challenging aspect of your work? For example, do you always succeed in fulfilling the director’s visions?

The work of a film editor is not about pressing buttons or programs. Apart from the final rewriting of the script, which takes place during editing, this work requires the ability to contain emotions. For directors who come with their hopes and grievances, realizing that they did something wrong or an idea didn’t work out, you become sort of a psychologist. After seeing the script’s first version, filmmakers often feel confused and the job of the film editor is to demonstrate that a solution can be found.

It is important to create a safe environment where the director can feel free to experiment, be unaware of certain things, argue, and voice his/her opinion. Perhaps the greatest challenge is waiting for a moment when the director is detached from the material and can have a neutral perspective. It is impossible to move towards the final version until this happens.

How much freedom does the job give you?

I am happy because I work with directors who give me plenty of freedom. I always prepare an intended version of the script and another one, an alternative one, which is supposed to be a cure, a “band-aid” that assures everyone that important things can be fixed and that we can improve certain editing points. You are constantly searching, rearranging the puzzle, and seeing the frames, but in the end, your job is to put the pieces together correctly. This kind of rebus-solving is the most enjoyable aspect of the work, allowing you to discover new subtexts of various scenes, decode their meaning, and see how they can work together.

What competencies and personal qualities does an aspiring film editor need?

First of all, empathy is needed to create a safe environment for the director. Of course, patience and the ability not to take everything personally are also important. I look at each film as my own, all of them are extremely important, I fall in love with both the stories and their characters. There are no movies that I don’t have feelings for.

Which genre of films is the most interesting for you to work with?

I like working with dramas, and documentaries. Comedies are fun to watch, but difficult to edit. It’s a specific genre with strict rules, and the sense of humor is very individual. You can never be sure whether people will not laugh or not at a certain point in the film, yet you still have to try to predict it so that you can leave a bit of time in the editing for the laughter to die down.

Which projects were the most interesting, enlightening, and memorable for you?

I remember that “The Saint” required a lot of empathy, and the editing of the material was like meditation. While working with the director Marija Kavtaradze, I gained not only experience but also friendship: I had never laughed so much with anyone in the editing room before. Marat Sargsyan’s documentary film “Bogdan doesn’t Want to Go Home”, the story of a teenagers’ socialization center, which becomes the last stop of re-education before prison, was very touching. You cannot help but feel sorry for the film’s characters and later, when you learn that they are not among the living anymore or are already in prison, you’re overwhelmed with emotions. Meanwhile, Karolis Kaupinis is a discussion partner in the political and military context, with whom we talk a lot about the geopolitical situation.

What do you like to watch yourself and do you manage to relax without paying too much attention to the film’s editing?

I enjoy going to festivals. If I have the chance, I take a vacation alone, without family and friends, and watch a lot of films selected for the programs. At home, I watch teenage comedies that deal with topics relevant to young people: apparently, my inner child is still stuck in adolescence. Finally, I like comedies that promote goodness and being better.

To be honest, while watching movies, for the first 10-15 minutes I cannot help but analyze the editing and engage in my inner debate. However, if the movie is engaging, after a while I no longer see the details. Sometimes I get slightly angry with myself because of this and promise myself to watch the film a second time.

Everything is changing so rapidly. I’ve noticed that nowadays film directors and scriptwriters are very skilled in storytelling, and when they tell stories, they are not afraid to talk about the issues that matter to them. I always support directors and encourage them to be brave in their choices and to make decisions that are not necessarily traditional, but important to them on a personal level. When I see the work of my editing students I am happy for the younger generation. We’ve all come a long way, and I hope all young artists in the cinema industry will get enough funding so that they can keep practicing and growing.

Thank you for the conversation.

Photos: S. Vilkaitė personal archive.

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