The 20th European Film Forum Scanorama has begun and will last till 20th November! Yesterday was the opening of one of the largest and most prominent international cultural film events in Lithuania. This year the programme consists of 92 Feature films, 26 short films and 11 workshops and Q&A events. There are 12 categories in the programme with different genres like drama, history, romance, comedy, horror, mystical, documentary, animation, war, Sci-Fi, fantasy, adventure, experimental, musical, thriller and biographical.
“I don’t celebrate any anniversaries of my own. But I think that all anniversaries are a kind of thresholds that encourage us to pause and reflect on what has been done well, what needs to continue, what should perhaps change and in what direction. I thought about this when I welcomed the first anniversary of Scanorama in 2012, and I can repeat it on the next step up in age, our twentieth anniversary. Scandinavia and the Nordic countries are the original conceptual basis for Scanorama. Today, we can already sketch out the field of its development.
The first decade of the festival highlighted News from the North as a cinematographic glimpse of the North with its heights, similarities and differences. The famous Dogme 95 Manifesto, signed by Lars von Trier, Kristian Levring, Thomas Vinterberg and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, was a strong impulse to dust off stagnant cinematic schemes. Its effectiveness was quickly confirmed by the works of the Manifesto authors.
Like Breaking the Waves and The Idiots before it, Dogville, which opened the first Scanorama, blew away the audiences and critics alike, soundly proving that the Dogme vows were not just empty words. This was supported by the works of other filmmakers who had signed the Manifesto: Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, Kristian Levring’s The King is Alive, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune. All of them became the highlights of the early Scanoramas, around which we built a Nordic cinema landscape that was growing more and more vibrant with new colours and names.
It is these timeless works that help us understand why it took a decade for the Nordic filmmakers to establish themselves in the global film context, and for the once short “list” of prominent names – Bergman, the Kaurismäki brothers and …? to be updated by their followers and opponents who were then little known not only in Europe, but also around the world. In turn, it took Scanorama a decade to rouse the curiosity of filmgoers not only with Palme d’Or, Golden Globe and Oscar winning films by Lars von Trier, Roy Andersson, Jan Troel, Bo Widerberg, Susanne Bier, but also with such names as Sarah Johnson or Anne Sewitsky, who had won at Sundance and San Sebastian, Karlovy Vary award-winners Baltasar Kormakur, Martin Lund and Dagur Kari, Berlin regulars Erik Poppe, Hans Petter Moland, Bent Hamer and many of today’s acclaimed Nordic filmmakers.
From the very beginning, Scanorama was nourished by two creative fountains. It was the understanding of classical cinema, linked to the name and creative principles of Ingmar Bergman, and the provocative reflection on cinema, which was at the heart of the changes in cinema space in the broader geographical and artistic sense. To highlight these differences, we held educational programmes.
One of the first such programmes, The Voice of Bergman, etched the proud profile of the Swedish film master into the memory of the audience. It has been nurtured and expanded over time by the director’s greatest films, documentary filmmakers’ reflections on Bergman’s personality, as well as by scripts realised after his death. To add to that, Scanorama showed Bergman’s last film, Sarabande (2012). We kept coming back to Bergman, both to celebrate his centenary with the whole cinema world, and to reflect on how Bergman’s personality and work influence the attitudes of today’s directors. The French director Mia Hansen Love delves into Bergman’s world in search of connections to her own (Bergman Island, 2020), while Swedish director Ruben Ostlund opposes his famous compatriot, in a cinematic language that bears the distinct and striking stamp of auteurism (Force Majeure, 2014; The Square, 2017), and argues for a different understanding of cinema and self-expression in it. Scanorama has paid tribute to the tandem of Bergman and Liv Ulmann, both in creative work and life, for the stories of their heroes are also the stories of their life. The documentary A Love Story: Liv and Ingmar (2012) provides an excellent explanation of the content of the love stories seen in Bergman’s films. Liv Ulmann as Bergman’s actress, Liv Ulmann as a director who brought Bergman’s remaining scripts to the screen after his death, Liv Ulmann as UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador, and last but not least, Liv Ulmann as Scanorama’s big guest from the North. I remember not only her unforgettable visit to Scanorama in 2012, but also our unexpected encounter at Nordic Film Days Lübeck and the heart on the invitation hand drawn by Liv after our chat over coffee. What a warm feeling comes over me when I remember it. It is the same warmth that emanates from this wonderful actress and a true star with no clichés of stardom. The best-known guests of both the early and the later Scanoramas were also distinguished by their pleasant posture, showing above all respect for their profession, their teammates and the audiences. They included the charming Swedish actress Lena Endre of the Bergman theatre group, who wanted to visit not only the Varnelis Museum but also the Kalvariju Market; the now patriarch of Icelandic cinema Fridrik Thór Fridriksson; one of the first of his compatriots to gain international recognition, actor, producer and director Baltasar Kormákur; and the Danish producer Meta Luisa Foldager, who has worked with Lars von Trier and now running her own production company; James Marsh, the Oscar-winning director of the documentary Man on Wire, who gave us some interesting tips on dealing with blue-blooded aristocrats, and his producer Simon Chinn; and Finnish film rebel Aku Louhimies. The old adage about the down-to-earthness of genuine stars was also confirmed by German documentary maker Ulrike Ottinger, Polish film great Krzysztof Zanussi, and British filmmaker Joanna Hogg, who have all visited Scanorama on multiple occasions. Perhaps that’s why professional collaborations with them has so naturally turned into long-lasting friendships.
Scanorama’s early educational programmes (Ibsen and Film, Hamsun and Film, Remembering DOGME) led deeper into the Scandinavian perception of filmmaking, paved ways into the controversial world of cinema, which does not shy away from the confrontation with tradition. In our first ten years, we were just following the triumphant rise of the Nordic filmmakers to Mount Olympus of world cinema.
Humble yet profound and wise, Open Hearts (2002), one of the first films by Danish director Susanne Bier, screened at one of the early Scanorama editions, revealed the exceptional talent of the young director, which was later confirmed by an Oscar, a Golden Globe, major European Film Academy’s awards, and prizes at numerous international festivals for her later work, In a Better World (2010). For me, Open Hearts remains her best film to date, not least because it is also responsible for a spectacular leap in the careers of three Danish actors – Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Paprika Steen. These days, Mads Mikkelsen draws a packed house of admirers of his talent at the 75th Cannes Film Festival (2022), works for the world’s biggest studios in Europe and Hollywood, and yet he still is a recognisable Danish actor, who can not only change from one film to another, but also remain himself (A Royal Affair (2012), Another round (2020). These days, no one is surprised by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s successive Palme d’Or wins at Cannes, or his older colleague Roy Andersson’s Venice Lions, or by the phenomenal nature of Icelandic cinema (Fridrik Thór Fridriksson, Baltasar Kormákur, Runarsson, Valdemar Johansson), as well as by Norwegian directors Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt’s repeated presence at the main Cannes competitions. Interestingly enough, Nordic filmmakers gain the attention of the world’s film professionals with their second and third films. Finnish Juho Kuosmanen, after a successful debut at Cannes in 2016, boldly stood alongside his famous compatriot, Cannes darling Aki Kaurismäki, and his second film already made it to the main Cannes competition. Iceland’s Hlynur Pálmason’s third film Godland (2022) caused a flurry of critical praise and outrage as to why it was only selected for Un Certain Regard instead of the main competition of the 75th edition of the Cannes Festival. ICS FILM CRITICS GRID wrote: “The film was inexplicably included in Un Certain Regard, despite the fact that it really should have been screened in the Cannes main competition.” With each film, the Nordic voices grow stronger and stronger, testifying to the profound and ever-opening geysers of cinema. Time connects what was with what is today, helping us realise that nothing comes out of nowhere. That is why it is worth looking back at what WAS.
We therefore consistently fostered the understanding that cinema does not start with today, and that a festival programme cannot just be a longer or shorter chain of latest award-winning films with an attached competition or two. We left this concept to the proponents of film supermarkets. Respect for the classics has shaped the aforementioned educational and retrospective programmes of Scanorama, and it has brought the true face of good film back to the audience. The kind of film that does not age, but becomes an aspiration for new generations of filmmakers and a nostalgic ideal for spectators. The Robert Bresson, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Theo Angelopoulos, Bo Widerberg, Luis Bunuel, Andrzej Zulawski, Michael Haneke, Johanna Hogg retrospectives have been a testimony to the robustness of European cinema from different periods.
THE MAID OF ORLÉANS AT SCANORAMA
We did not stand still, we evolved and moved on, trying to go deeper, embrace more, to combine tradition with authentic search for novelty and experimental impulses. In the year when Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, although notorious for its bizarre intrigues and funding issues, we drew a new line in the development of Scanorama – to cover the whole of Europe, to gather and unite under the umbrella of European cinema, without turning a blind eye to what was happening outside it. The Nordic Film Forum naturally evolved into the European Film Forum. We chose to support this change by reconciling the Nordic and the Baltic dimensions through the Passion of Joan of Arc project, which combined film and music. The number of spears that had to be broken for that title! Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and the music written exclusively for that film by the late Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius, performed live by the St. Christopher Orchestra conducted by Donatas Katkus, perfectly expressed the principal idea of the European Capital of Culture – to merge elements of different cultures, enriching them with modern and relevant sound. Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer captured the myth of the holy martyr whose sacrifice was inevitable. The director dispensed with all extraneous visuals and pomp, focusing on the stunningly expressive face of actress Maria Falconetti. The directorial austerity helped highlight the power of Joan’s faith. When composing the score for this film, the renowned Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius (who, by the way, scored numerous Lithuanian films) was well aware of the special nature of this artistic contact. “Scoring that film was very difficult. To pin down the music’s character, rhythm, the moods. To fuse them into a whole. Not to kill the image with music. Not to lose the synchronicity – that was a major problem. The main idea was to avoid eclecticism in the music,” he said, as laconically as ever. And then he added, “I’ll be happy if I’ve succeeded in recreating in music the spirit of the time, which connects all the periods.” Like Dreyer’s masterpiece, Kutavičius’ music is one of the most influential cultural phenomena. Today, when Kutavičius is no longer with us, it is all the more pleasing to remember his triumph in the packed Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, which rose to a long ovation at the end of the film. This context was naturally complemented by the first edition of Shooting Stars in Lithuania, an event initiated by the European Film Promotion, which presented at Scanorama young talented actors from Switzerland, Denmark and Hungary. Before long, the names of Aistė Diržiūtė and Žygimantė Elena Jakštaitė were soon be among the Shooting Stars in Berlinale.
This victorious feeling stayed with us for a long time – both when the project with the score by a Lithuanian composer was performed in Prague and Copenhagen, and when it was successfully repeated in major Lithuanian cities, Kaunas, Klaipėda and Vilnius, where it had been born. We also told the audiences the dramatic story of the film’s survival. After its single premiere in Copenhagen in 1928, the film’s fate was determined by fire, judges and scissors. It was censored, the original negative perished in flames, and only its mutilated versions were left to roam the world. Dreyer was mad until his death (1968). Thirteen years later, however, a clean and uncensored copy of The Passion of Joan of Arc was found (1981). Where?
In a psychiatric hospital near Oslo. How an original copy of the film, untouched by the censors, had ended up in a place like that, remains unclear to this day. Up above, Dreyer must have had a sigh of relief.However… the detective story went on right until the premiere.
The rights holders, a renowned French film company Gaumont, granted us the right to screen the film for a reasonable sum and gave a working copy of the film to the composer. Kutavičius used it to write the score for almost a year. We were supposed to receive the actual copy of the film for the premiere a couple of days before the premiere. It had to be technically better than the working copy. We did not get the technically superior Betacam copy (which was the only best video format at the time) until the morning of the premiere. Now, during the dress rehearsal, just before the premiere, it suddenly turned out that the duration of the superior copy was slightly different from that of the working copy (which meant that the score was to end before the film)! We were only saved by a lucky accident. My colleague Justas had saved the inferior version and had it with him. With perfect timing.
I was saved from stress by the need to meet our guest Nick Powell, famous British producer and then President of the Council of the European Film Academy, so I did not return to the theatre until the drama was over. Kutavičius, sighing happily after the unexpected experience, admitted, “I almost had a heart attack.” When the first shots flashed on the spectacular screen during the premiere, nobody could care less about the technically superior video copy of the film that we had so dearly received. How can one not think of Dreyer, who said, “Only imperfect films are alive”. I guess, inferior copies do have an equal right to live. This year, Scanorama, together with the St. Christopher Orchestra, revives this project and dedicates it to the memory of the uniquely talented composer and humble man, Bronius Kutavičius.
CROSSING ALL OF EUROPE
All these years we have been aiming, successfully, I believe, to tailor our programme(s) not only for the fans of uncompromising auteur film and Dogme experiments. They have embraced and reflected the diversity in cinema. We did not just show big names or outstanding works (although there has been plenty of those too), we did not just look for masterpieces, we helped discover films that above all had a palpable spark of artistry and talent, and we have never shied away from films deemed unwatchable if only they represented a quest for a new cinematic language and style. We have been looking for signs of auteurship and craftsmanship in genre cinema, and valuing auteur films not only for mere affiliation to the Art House, but also for the wish to be seen and understood.
From the outset, we have seen our festival as a forum for film culture to discuss and meet (co-production forums moderated for several years by Nick Powell, EFA Council’s long-standing witty President who passed away a couple of years ago, film industry events by the EU institutions, workshops by prominent artists, problem-solving conferences, etc). We have tried to provide young filmmakers with an opportunity to be assessed by the objective gaze of experienced professionals, to admire or to be annoyed by films that make up over a dozen programmes each year, revealing the trends in European film from a variety of perspectives.
I subscribe to the idea by French critics that the Lumière brothers invented more than just the moving image and the projector that captures it in 1895. They conceived and realised the concept of the film screening, where people gather to wait for that magical moment when the lights go out and the white screen awakens (there is a beautiful description of this cinema’s mystery in Ingmar Bergman’s Laterna magica (1987)). However, the changing times made us look for alternatives, to meet the challenges and to try to preserve the fundamental principles of the festival. Covid struck a ruthless blow in an attempt to destroy the tradition of watching film in a cinema; cinema consumption at home with drinks and snacks gained popularity; festivals started to offer screenings in airports or elsewhere with a big screen and the spectators seated in cars, etc. All this changed the film watching habits. But the need for a genuine cinematic experience has not gone away. As Covid subsided, opera, theatre and cinemas were revived for the simple reason that they are destined to survive and cinema is destined to go its own way in the era of social networks and online platforms. In this context, our festival’s mission is to continue to be an expert of sorts, encouraging the audience to understand what is and is not cinema, to understand what makes good cinema and how it differs from the other kind, what artistic stance determines the direction and content of the contemporary cinema process, and to understand the changing habits of the audience and the attendance at the festival.
We have tried to structure the Scanorama programmes in such a way that they contain all that is most vivid and interesting in European cinema: the dimensions of the Old Europe and the new cultures that have joined it, the great cinema figures, the bold search for a film language, the charm of the real life, the movements of genre cinema, the play of nocturnal film creatures, the glimpse at the other continents, and, of course, the origins and innovations of our own Lithuanian film. Such reflections inspired the programmes Special Screenings, Lithuanian Cinema: An Open History, Think What You Want, and Nocturnal Creatures. We have invited the audiences to cross Europe together, to be partners in exploring the twists and turns of the contemporary cinematic process. We valued and respected them, so we did not flatter, make concessions, we were not afraid to take risks, of being misunderstood and ignored.
We had been discussing the topic of possible competitions at Scanorama for years. We wanted to create a platform for emerging directors to get their start in big cinema. This is how the New Baltic Cinema (NBC) short film competition came about ten years ago. Young filmmakers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia tried their hand here, and the festival charted the future face of Baltic cinema, with a focus on young Lithuanian filmmakers. Today, the winners of NBC are established feature film directors in their countries, touring international film festivals in Europe and beyond. Karolis Kaupinis, Andrius Blaževičius, Marija Stonytė, Linas Mikuta are already prominent film figures in Lithuania, while their colleagues Bruno Quast, Kārlis Lesiņš and Vallo Tooml have also found a path of their own. This means that we made the right choice in the direction of the competition. We have deepened and thoughtfully changed it. We expanded its geography, initially admitting all 9 countries of the Baltic Sea region, with an ambitious goal of covering the whole of Europe. By Scanorama’s 20th year, NBC has grown into the short film competition Glimpses of Europe.
The analysis of the contemporary cinematic process has led to another step: an annual European Feature Film Competition, with films by European makers of exceptional aesthetics and style. We are pursuing long-term goals, because we want to draw attention to bold and original works that are rarely distributed outside their countries of origin, and have not yet been awarded in major competitions. We want to consolidate them in the public’s cultural memory. The fact that Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003) or Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland (2022) did not win the Palme d’Or at Cannes has not diminished their artistic value or importance, but rather has confirmed the idea that things do not always work out the way they are supposed to. Bears, palms and lions are nice for the filmmakers themselves and a good bait for festivals to lure audiences. However, they are not the only ones that speak of a film’s value. Europe produces more great films than there are awards at major festivals. The audience will be presented with a number of them in this year’s edition of Scanorama, with a chance to pick directors and films that have not yet won major prizes alongside the big names in cinema (the Dardenne brothers, Albert Serra, Jerzy Skolimowski, Bille August, Paolo Taviani).
CORE VALUES AND SATTELITES
Scanorama’s core values have been reinforced by years of successful satellite events. The biggest Scanorama satellite, the Early Cinema Festival Pirmoji Banga, approaching its first major anniversary, has chosen a distinctive educational direction – to present cinema’s historical heritage, compensate for the lack of attention to and knowledge of the greatest works and authors of early cinema, and create a sustainable field of film preservation in Lithuania. For seven years, the festival has been opening unknown pages of film history, reflecting on them in theoretical articles and workshops, reviving and using specific screening equipment and obsolete formats, and developing the competences of Lithuanian musicians who accompany silent films. Pirmoji Banga, which takes place every September, has already established itself as the prelude to Scanorama, which starts in late autumn.
As Scanorama grows bigger and stronger, its next event, Scanorama Summer, is also becoming more and more prominent. In just a couple of years, it has managed to implement a practice never used by other festivals – holding mini-festivals, rather than individual screenings, in selected Lithuanian towns, establishing not an instant but a sustainable mutual relationship with regional cultural institutions and communities, carefully selecting for each town its own Scanbassadors.
The thoughtfully designed programme of Scanorama Summer draws attention to the historical and cultural uniqueness of each town and offers the most appropriate accents, in turn attracting unexpected and interesting initiatives from the local cultural communities. Satellite events are becoming a kind of code for Scanorama throughout the year, expanding its geography and fostering audiences of good cinema.
Emotional interest in Mantas Kvedaravičius’ Parthenon in a packed art gallery became an act of respect for the deceased artist. Brave personalities, to whom this year’s programme in Biržai was dedicated, testified to the rightness of the choice. A Fluxus performance revived the inventiveness of Jonas Mekas and his fellow artists and aroused lively interest. In the Year of Youth, the Alytus Theatre became a platform for young people to debate about and with themselves; workshops there can attract more active visitors than in the capital, which is spoiled by similar events. Cinema has also revitalised the seaside town of Šventoji – its central square is perfect for gala screenings of good cinema.
The reach of Scanorama grows wider, both within and outside the country. Many years of experience working with international festivals have led to the creation of Moving Images Without Borders, a network of European film festivals that has clarified its objectives over the years and turned its attention to the most important issues of our time: sustainability and ecology.
How do the issues of sustainability and ecology, intensively debated in Europe, manifest themselves in the cultural field? How do they affect the processes of filmmaking, production and distribution? We will discuss this together with our network colleagues and the Lithuanian film community in our industry event “SCAdirections”. The network proposes a Green Charter for European festivals. What will it be, and to what extent can it be adapted by other festivals?
We envisioned Scanorama as an open, live and dynamic structure that encourages all of us to be flexible, open to novelty and develop a memory of what was, a focus on what is, and an anticipation of what will be.” – says festival founder and artistic director Gražina Arlickaitė.