Marija Razgutė is a film producer who has been present in the world of cinema for 15 years. Among many of her produced projects there are such films as Runner, Summer Survivors, Nova Lituania and the film that received particular attention at the Sundance Film festival – Slow. About her work as a producer, her bond with directors, and movies with whom it is great to work with – in an interview initiated by the Vilnius Film Office.
– Marija, it would be wonderful to start at the beginning – how did you find yourself on the path of a producer?
– Most likely, I just was at the right place at the right time. I was studying business management, but in my life there was always a lot of culture, I loved cinema, had many friends who studied at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Once I produced a student film, which received the Silver Crane’s Egg award, as the best student short film of the year. Afterwards, I opened a film production company and began producing short, and later feature-length films. I was always close to this path, but, it seems, I needed to be at the right place at the right time, for everything to fall into place.
– You have been working as a producer for 15 years. That is a great stretch of your life. Have you ever had any doubts about this choice?
– I would be lying if I said there weren’t any doubts. None of us are the enlightened saint who descended from heaven, having one and only correct path to take, which we do not doubt regardless of any obstacles or troubles that fly into it. I really have considered whether this is the path that I should be taking, whether it is really meant for me – is there someone who can do it better, someone who has more impressive abilities and qualities for this job?
It is natural to sometimes stop and ask yourself if the difficulties you encounter are worthy of the reward that you receive. I allowed myself to doubt, but after this stage passed, I only reassured myself – I love my work much more than I doubt it. Meaning which we create and long-term value matter to me the most. People, with whom I work – creative, curious, hardworking, and the sense of community – very strong. We have all come for a single purpose, all bring a lot and give much, and that is something special, even, I’d like to say sacred. The work contributed; the synergy later reflects on the screen as well. The lack of such love when making the film is equally visible.
– What films feel closest to you? How do you choose which projects to work with?
– First of all, the idea has to be meaningful. I do not have a list of topics that interest me, perhaps it’s banal, but to me the most interesting thing in film is the person. It is not so important to me whether it will be a drama, or a tragedy, or a comedy, but rather if the character and the conflict that they encounter is interesting to me. I have to want to follow the journey of the character for an hour or two, as long as the film will last – is it a person who strikes the chords of curiosity, whom I would like to know and spend time with?
I trust my intuition, a lot depends on the filmmaker who is proposing the idea, because firstly I am choosing a partner. The idea can be changed, “smoothed out”, but you cannot change a person. Having made the decision to make a film, I never regretted it. I never regretted saying “no” either – maybe it was not the right place, not the right time, maybe the foundation was not strong enough for a collaboration. Each choice has a meaning.
– You have hinted at the importance of collaboration with the director. How do two creative personalities find a shared path, make decisions?
– The relationship with directors is truly close-knit, the best definition of this connection is partnership. We create films together – in happiness, and in sorrow. We solve problems together just as we celebrate the successes. It is an important feeling, allowing the understanding, that we are not alone. Creation of a film takes 3 to 5 years, so during this period you feel much more solid if you can seek comfort, experience joy, share ideas, advice, encouragement. Community is the engine, which pushes the film forward. Producer and director go together from the beginning to the end and remain with the film its whole life. Some films even outlive their creators.
Therefore, it is very important to find people (like-minded ones), with whom you can work. You must be able to identify people with whom it is fun to be, and people who are pleasant to work with – work ethic, moral choices, a full level of transparency is essential, just like diligence and inner motivation. You must know why you have decided to create a film – maybe it would be enough just to write an article or a Facebook post to transmit the desired message? A film lasts a very long time, involves many people, therefore it must be special. At least you must answer to yourself why did you choose this difficult path to make the idea meaningful. I would also add – a shared sense of humour – not having it in filmmaking is a true tragedy.
– Which part of the work is the most complex for you?
– The road is never evenly paved, but the most difficult thing for me is to see conflicts which could have been avoided. That is the question of ability to communicate, tolerance and openness, ability to find space for other person’s ideas in your ego. It is hard avoiding conflicts, as 50 to 100 people participate in creation of a film. We all grew up in different contexts, some things come from our educational system. There could be a lot more tolerance – ability to ask questions, to listen to one another. Everything is changing now, and I see it with my own children, we are on the right track, but there is always desire for more, for capability.
– Have there been projects which were particularly memorable, the most expensive or most interesting?
– To be honest, I cannot single out a single project, because neither of them was easier, or quicker, or simpler to create – it has been a rollercoaster ride with all of them. After each film I spend a lot of time in self-reflection, thinking what lessons I have learned and what I will be doing differently. I am grateful to every film, because every one of them raises the bar in a sense of lessons, experience, fame, internationality, awards. With each project, story, director I feel professional maturity, for which I am very grateful. If it weren’t for those films I would not be the person I am.
With our last 3 – 4 films, we began working internationally. We coproduce films – thus many people from different parts of the world contribute in them. The stories are still Lithuanian and authentic, but they speak to any person without any barriers. We are interested in the character, why they encounter one or another conflict, how do they live through it, and those are human things without borders. Filmmaking with partners from other countries is an infinitely great discovery. With new stories and structures new doors open up, which is a great incentive to move forward. In general, there aren’t two films which we would have created the same. Each time everything changes a lot, and internationality brings in new, fresh air, expands the viewpoint. That provides internal energy to continue and do what I do.
– The director of the film Slow – Marija Kavtaradzė – recently received the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival. This is a huge appreciation for Lithuania. How did you and the whole creative team feel?
– The first feeling that I had – infinitely huge pride in the film, the Director Marija Kavtaradzė, the whole film industry. We are so small in the sense of size, but so big in content. Sundance Film Festival is the most important film event in the United States, and the decision to award a Lithuanian director – is an enormous, shining appreciation. The name of Lithuania is not heard in such film festivals very often. We have received many inquiries, and Marija a lot of much deserved attention.
We will see the film in Lithuania in autumn, and now it will travel through other festivals. We always await the premiere in Lithuanian the most, as it is – our primary audience for which we create. We are the most nervous before Lithuanian premiere, before the reviews written by Lithuanian critics, but also the screening of the film in our country is the most precious. We are eagerly awaiting autumn and our viewers in cinemas then.
Photo credits: Vytautas Juozėnas