March 14th is fast approaching, and this is the day when the Vilnius City Film Festival “Kino Pavasaris” (“Cinema Spring”) begins. “People watch films, and we watch people,” says Algirdas Ramaška, the festival’s general manager, referring to the experience of seeing cinema’s teaming with filmgoers. Ramaška spoke to the Vilnius Film Office about one of the most anticipated cultural events of the Lithuanian capital, the festival’s greatest strengths and fears, and the sincerity that has become the event’s signature feature.

“Kino Pavasaris” is about to commence very soon. For us, the audience, this is the true beginning of the event. However, for you, the organizers, probably something else marks the beginning. Perhaps it’s the first time you can actually feel the tangible results?

Sessions with the audience are certainly a rewarding moment. You travel all year long, go to festivals, select films, and cannot wait till you can show them. The festival is focused on the audience, this is why it feels meaningful and you believe that it is an important, life-changing experience for someone. I often say that we have two rewards – the financial remuneration and the other reward, the essential one, which is when you see what the whole team has created, you feel the emotions of the audience, their gratitude. These are magical moments that inspire most people to be a part of the “Kino Pavasaris” team.

The festival organized during the pandemic was a big pain for us. In the virtual film festival format, everything we did was thrown into a black void, with no feedback or emotion. When we invited the audience to the “Aerokino” screenings a year later, when we saw the cars coming, I believe one could see our smiles even through the masks.

How is the preparation for the festival going? When do you start your first work and which stage is the most difficult?

There is neither a beginning nor an end to the festival’s organization because the process is continuous. For example, although we still have to wait a year till we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of “Kino Pavasaris”, we have been thinking about it for four years already. You need to work purposefully in order to establish relationships and be able to bring the desired artists to the festival.

Perhaps one of the most difficult periods comes after the festival is over. For a good two months, the team have to organize and prepare various reports, even though the event is already over and the pleasant excitement that we felt while waiting for the festival had worn off. This work is just like inviting friends over for dinner: there are stages of preparation, cooking, then hanging out with friends, and finally washing the dishes. The difference is that it’s not just a few friends coming to visit us, but an audience of over 100,000.

 In your opinion, what is the greatest strength of “Kino Pavasaris”?

The first thing is creativity, how creatively we look at every element of our work, even when solving problems. Also, there is our candid sincerity. We really care about the audience, partners, filmmakers, and the films we screen. We care about the processes that take place in the world and how we can contribute to them by transforming and educating society. I think this is a great value that makes our audience and partners appreciate us.

 We are very happy to see the audience. If a person leaves the room in the middle of the screening because they don’t like the movie, I will always approach him or her and ask what happened, every volunteer will do the same. We cannot have rude, cold communication.

“Kino Pavasaris” is probably the most anticipated festival in Lithuania and its audience has great expectations. How much of the festival is shaped by the audience, and how much do you follow certain ideals of yourself and your team when deciding on the direction of the festival?

The audience does shape the festival, or rather certain elements of it, but we are also a self-critical team with high standards. The audience may not even be aware of it, but we try to anticipate their expectations, give more than they expect, or, the least, not to disappoint them. That’s what true leadership is – going the extra mile, anticipating all the bad scenarios, all the “what ifs”. The festival has to surprise the audience every time, which is extremely difficult because you have to constantly offer something new and be innovative in every step. The biggest compliment I can hear is that we surprised people again by bringing a creative twist to the festival.

Algirdas Ramaška | Photo by Audrius Solominas

When do you consider the festival successful? Everyone counts the films and the audience and looks at the tickets sold, but I believe that the success of the festival lies in other things as well.

Of course, there are many important elements, but above all, the emotional state of the team is important. A successful festival is when you feel like it’s a success. Sometimes they are good, but you are so tired that you cannot enjoy them anymore. Appreciating what happened and drawing energy from it is very important.

You have been the general manager of the festival for many years. What are the things you are most excited about every year?

Whatever happens, the general manager is responsible for everything: he is in charge of the team, the festival, the result, everything. Everyone sees only the successful moments, but life is about finding balance, as there are always ups and downs. I am glad that today I have fantastic partners, Odeta Morkūnienė and Konradas Kazlauskas. Realizing that someone can do better is not intimidating, on the contrary, it’s a great joy. I think the problem of managers is that they tend to hold on to the same fundamentals. I am learning leadership, which empowers people, allows them to share responsibility, and believes that someone can do even better than imagined. It is important to enable people to make their dreams come true.

Perhaps, especially after the pandemic, the most difficult thing is to assemble a team. More than 100 people work at the festival every year, at least 20 of them do it throughout the year, and others join as the festival approaches. Being able to enjoy time together, work, overcome challenges and manage a project of such a huge scale is the biggest challenge.

Which aspects of the event require a lot of time and effort and the filmgoers are not aware of?

There is a saying: the devil’s in the details, and it totally makes sense. For example, most people overlook the importance of a good translation. We certainly appreciate the translations and the translators themselves. Almost all of our films are translated not from English but from the original language. A good translation can make a bad film great or completely spoil a great work.

Every detail and every step of the audience is important – what they see and smell when they enter the cinema, what they feel like and what they experience before and after the movie, how we see them off, whether we decorate the cinema to make them more comfortable. Finally, what matters a lot is whether the audience wants to share their emotions – not by rattling a keyboard on social media, but live, at the festival.

What are you most looking forward to this year, as the festival begins?

I am most looking forward to rooms full of spectators. So many people are working for the sake of feeling a sense of community and being together. I don’t watch the films during the festival itself, because I do it earlier, but I have a ritual – I walk through the rooms and check how people are watching the films, how they react to the scenes, and what the energy in the room feels like. This is a magical moment. People watch films and we watch people.

Thank you for the conversation.

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