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On The Eve of Its Independence Day, Vilnius IFF Acts On Russian Boycott with Ukraine Focus

Bad Roads © Kristi Films

Lithuania knows a thing or two about staying silent. That silence ended on 23 August 1989 when two million people across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed a human chain: the Baltic Way. Seven months later, on March 11 1990, Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence.

The Vilnius International Film Festival (March 24- April 3.) is the first festival to boycott Russian cinema by refusing all Russian films and to act on this petition by the Ukrainian Film Academy is calling for. Instead the festival will dedicate a Day Zero on March 23 by screening five Ukrainian films: MARIUPOLIS, THE DISTANT BARKING DOGS, ATLANTIS, BAD ROADS, MY THOUGHTS ARE SILENT. The overarching theme of unity - To Exist You Have to Co-Exist - was chosen months ago to help its audience emerge from COVID-era isolation. 

As festival director Algirdas Ramaska explained to the New York Times last week, any film involving Russia-based companies would indirectly raise money for the war in Ukraine through taxation. “Total isolation will make more Russian people rise up against their government.”

The festival’s theme only drives home his point. “We must do everything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. With the boycott, the festival has taken a stand without any compromise. Seeing what is happening in society and the impact on mental health, our team feels that the festival is the most meaningful thing we can do at the moment. Films inspire us to define the difference between good and evil. Let's be curious, ask ourselves what our role in this tense world is. As a country, Lithuania has stayed silent for so long. We are not afraid to speak up.”

No stranger to international headlines, the festival’s fresh approach to its previous two locked-down online editions caught the eyes of global news agencies and critics. Its 2020 edition turned part of the Vilnius airport into a drive-in theater. Last year, local cinephiles checked into the city’s top hotels for a red-carpet experience with the entire festival line-up beamed into their rooms. 

This year sees the festival bringing audiences back with events that underline its theme of co-existence, including a gala screening at the national theater with XXXX. As part of the European Capital of Culture celebration in the city of Kaunas, the festival will build a one-off theater a special screening of Laurynas Bareiša’s PILGRIMS (Venice, Best Film Orizzonti 2021) in the village of Karmelava where the film was shot.

Vilnius IFF’s industry program Meeting Point Vilnius (MPV) also disinvited Russian projects in line with the festival’s boycott. Instead It will dedicate a special Ukrainian day to its program on April 1 with panels on political, institutional and film industry levels. As MPV’s Head of Industry Alessandra Pastor comments, “Ukrainian filmmakers deserve our full, undivided attention. As they fight for their country and their very lives, we offer a dialogue with them to define short, medium and long-term strategies. It’s never too late to start talking about tomorrow.” 

The Vilnius Film Festival is supported by the Lithuanian Film Centre, co-funded by the Lithuanian Council for Culture, Creative Europe MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Vilnius City Municipality and Go Vilnius. Vilnius IFF Kino Pavasaris is an independent private initiative.
 
Vilnius Film Festival: kinopavasaris.lt

Ukrainian Film Academy petition: https://www.change.org/p/film-institutions-and-film-professionals-call-for-a-boycott-of-russian-cinema

 

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