“Short, yet films”—this is the motto of the Vilnius Short Film Festival, one of the biggest festivals in the Baltic countries, dedicated exclusively to short films. Rimantė Daugėlaitė-Cegelskienė, founder of the “Lithuanian Shorts” agency, head of the festival, and Gabrielė Cegialytė, the festival’s managing director, are at the helm of the event, which is taking place for the seventeenth time this year. As the festival is fast approaching, we talk about what short films can surprise us with and some of the exciting novelties awaiting the audience this year.
Short films have been an integral part of your professional life for many years. What appeals to you about this film format?
Gabrielė: Short films are always one step ahead. They are very innovative, capturing the latest and hottest trends, something that we will see in feature-length cinema only 5 years from now. For me, short films opened the door to getting to know the world and the expression of cinema: new genres and types, as well as experimental cinema. An opportunity to be surprised in today’s world of constant media consumption is an important part of this format’s allure for me.
Rimantė: I agree that the short format has a lot of creative freedom, dynamics, and speed. Lower production costs allow us to focus on what matters here and now, to touch upon some of the current social and political topics. I am pleasantly surprised by the animation, which is increasingly breaking the stereotype that it is only intended for children or young audiences. The endless variety of techniques used to talk about very serious topics is fascinating.
Gabrielė: We appreciate the opportunity to get to know budding Lithuanian filmmakers, to see them grow, create, and travel through festivals, and to be on their creative path, both at the festival and while working at the Lithuanian Shorts agency.
On January 17–23, you invite short film lovers to come together for the 17th time. How have the festival and its audience changed over the years?
Rimantė: The event started as a student film festival, so it was focused on a young audience who was still studying. Over the course of more than 17 years, the concept of the festival has changed a lot. We wanted it to become relevant to the widest possible audience, so we gradually abandoned the image of a festival focused primarily on fledgling filmmakers. What we definitely notice is that the audience, especially in the city of Vilnius, has grown larger and more diverse. Spectators of various ages come to the event: adults, families with children, and seniors. The Lithuanian audience has already warmed to short films, and it is becoming common to watch them. This is the result of many years of work.
Gabrielė: We are constantly making efforts to reach out to a broader audience and make the festival accessible to everyone. For example, for several years there have been film workshops specifically for senior audience members. I think the audience is growing with us. The students, who started making their first films in 2006, are now recognized authors, proudly carrying the banner of the festival. We screened the works of Marija Kavtaradze, Laurynas Bareišis, Marija Stonytė, Andrius Blaževičius, Karolis Kaupinis. Today, they present feature-length films that travel all over the world, reap awards, and promote the name of Lithuania.
When do you consider the festival a success and feel like you can celebrate the result when you look back?
Rimantė: Probably, organizers of any festival would tell you that sold-out tickets is the best indicator. We are happy that our audience is growing, and the year of the pandemic has shown that the audience remains keen and interested and keeps growing even in the face of crises. Of course, one of the indicators is the number of film applications. It increases every year, which means that the festival is known and recognized not only in Lithuania but also in the entire region. More and more often, we notice that Lithuanian filmmakers consider it an honor to present a film premiere at our festival.
Gabrielė: Not only the number of purchased tickets is important, so is the visitors’ feedback. Sometimes the screenings attract fewer people, but the viewers are very satisfied with the experience; they find the program valuable and relevant. The festival is also successful when the organizers’ team feels good about it. We try to maintain a suitable work culture, foster an empathetic relationship, and a sense of community. We have colleagues who have been working at the festival for over a decade. The fact that team members are coming back is a very good sign.
What will the 17th Short Film Festival be like? What is important and relevant to you this year?
Rimantė: The axis of the festival is increasing accessibility. In recent years, we have been thinking a lot about how to respond to the needs of people with disabilities—how to reach these communities and how to invite them to the festival. We are taking the first steps towards accessibility, and we dream that the participation of people with disabilities in cultural events will become common in the future.
Gabrielė: While organizing the festival, we discovered wonderful organizations, such as the Lithuanian Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired. It’s good to see how excited they are about new opportunities and offering their help. Of course, the accessibility of the festival depends not only on usbut also on the logistics of the cinemas and the general cultural policy.
What topics will be covered in this year’s competitive, national and special programs?
Rimantė: The festival does not have a single unifying theme – the program titles are determined by the films themselves. They reflect the latest and most relevant film trends, what Lithuanian and foreign cinema professionals live and breathe. For instance, nowadays in the competition one will see programs like “Political Violence” or “Empty Pockets”.
Gabrielė: We will also present a record number of special programs this year, including films created by artificial intelligence, programs created by children, youngsters and seniors.
However, the spiciest content of this year’s festival will be waiting for you in the N-18 program, breaking the boundaries and intended only for adults. This is a program of short films by Latvian director Sigmė Baumanė, who explores female sexuality, liberation, and pleasure. Remarkably, the director made the films in the first decade of the 21st century, when the aforementioned topics were not yet discussed openly in our society. We are very happy that Lithuanian filmgoers will see these works.
I would like to single out the retrospective program of the director Artūras Barysas-Baras, which we saw during the business trip in Dresden. These are a dozen of the artist’s films from the 1970s, some of which have never been screened in Lithuania.
This year, we will also take a closer look at Sweden. In films, Swedes boldly joke about their excessive openness, very high tolerance, and other characteristics of the nation. Therefore, I can already say that this program will be a great example of Scandinavian humor and the courage to make fun of yourself.
The national program this year consists of 11 works by our country’s directors. What do Lithuanian filmmakers find most relevant nowadays? What kind of trends have you noticed in Lithuanian shorts?
Rimantė: A decade ago, we often distinguished between Lithuanian and foreign films. I believe the festival proves that such a divide no longer exists. Today, Lithuanians participate in international festivals, compete equally with foreign filmmakers, and talk about topics that affect the whole world. I think that our filmmakers are very active, ambitious, perseverant, and courageous.
Gabrielė: During the 7 years that I’ve spent at the “Lithuanian Shorts” agency, I noticed that every year, significantly more Lithuanian short films are made. Thanks to the funding of the Lithuanian Film Center and other public funds, directors now have ways to do a lot of creative work and participate in workshops, residencies, and various festival programs. There are also many students who make films abroad but want to present their work here in Lithuania. I would say that today we are experiencing the true golden age of Lithuanian short films.
Thank you for the conversation.
The 17th Vilnius Short Film Festival will take place on January 17–23 in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda and Šiauliai and on the ŽMONĖS Cinema home cinema platform. More information and detailed festival program can be found at www.filmshorts.lt.