Algirdas Ramaška • General director, Vilnius IFF
“We are always prepared to go the extra mile for our audience”
by Vassilis Economou
- As the 23rd Vilnius International Film Festival gets under way, we chat to its general director, Algirdas Ramaška, about his expectations for this year’s edition
The 23rd edition of the Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris starts today, 15 March, and will run until 29 March. On the opening day of the gathering, we had a chance to talk to Algirdas Ramaška, general director of the VIFF, about the unique characteristics of the most important Lithuanian film event, its role in the discovery of new talents and his expectations for this year’s edition.
Cineuropa: What is your role as general director of the Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris?
Algirdas Ramaška: I would say that my role is to gather together a professionally strong, honest and passionate team. Otherwise, VIFF Kino Pavasaris would not be possible without it. As an executive director at VIFF Kino Pavasaris, I travel a lot to other film festivals and industry events, trying to share my knowledge as well as be inspired by other professionals and film enthusiasts. I have learned that the key trait to have while working in this industry is creativity. Not only do you have to be creative, but your festival strategy also has to be creative, or else you will not be able to inspire others or find solutions to the problems that might seem unsolvable. I was born and raised in cinema, literally. And for the past 15 years, I have been on this “cultural battlefield”, where every day I am fighting for a brighter future, trying to prove that film festivals and independent films create enormous economic, cultural and educational value. I want to show that movies can change our lives; they can educate, as well as have an impact on a country’s culture, economic situation and image in general. I firmly believe in this fight because I learned the most while watching independent films. Every director opens yet another door or window to their own story, their culture and politics. I would say that screenings and meeting with creative people provided me with a better education than any university degree would. Cinema does not provide you with one, straightforward answer, but nor does life. And this is what I want to share with others.
Given that it is one of the leaders in the region, how would you introduce the VIFF to a wider European and international audience?
Kino Pavasaris is unquestionably one of the most highly anticipated annual cultural events in Lithuania. So many people take time off from their jobs to be able to attend all the screenings and events. It has become embedded in many people’s everyday lives. The festival is known for its peculiarly chosen programmes and a really rich accompanying package of cinema-related events. Last year, the gathering was visited by 114,000 filmgoers. Given the small scale of the country itself, this makes VIFF Kino Pavasaris not only the largest cinema event in Lithuania, but also one of the most notable film festivals in Eastern Europe.
Over the years, I have noticed that the festival audience has been demanding high-quality cinema and events from us. They are very well educated and clearly know what they want. Thus, every year, we are obliged to do better and to maintain the bar very high in terms of quality. We are always prepared to go the extra mile for our audience.
I reckon that our hospitality distinguishes us from other festivals, too. All of our guests would confirm that Kino Pavasaris is very hospitable and inclusive. It is embedded in our values to deeply care about our guests and audience. Vilnius itself, with its support and contributions, is unquestionably a part of Kino Pavasaris’ identity. Vilnius has many advantages and some disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that not many people, especially in Western Europe, know what and where Vilnius is. But this might turn into our strongest advantage because those who have had a chance to come here know that Vilnius is the best-kept secret in Europe, and people love to discover secrets.
Apart from renowned filmmakers, the VIFF also focuses on emerging new voices. Could this be part of its identity?
Without a doubt. Half of our programme is dedicated to debuting filmmakers. The audience loves it. Kino Pavasaris serves as a platform for young, debuting filmmakers’ ideas to be heard and for their works to be seen by a huge audience and industry professionals. I hope we truly inspire and engage the next generation of filmmakers. It is always an honour to see films that started their journey at our event awarded at various international film festivals.
Previously, we had a competition programme focused on Central and Eastern European debuting filmmakers, and from this year onwards, we are open to all undiscovered European talents. I am particularly happy that directors coming not only from the Baltics, but also from member countries of the Eastern Partnership – for instance, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus – use Kino Pavasaris as a trampoline to an international career. We help their interesting narratives to be heard and to get noticed by industry professionals. I think many would agree that Eastern countries are the new hotspot for creative talents.
Why is it important for a film professional to participate in Meeting Point – Vilnius?
Meeting Point – Vilnius is a rapidly growing film-industry event and has become an essential part of the festival, establishing a platform for finding and encouraging new talents. This year, we are expecting over 300 industry guests. Meeting Point – Vilnius is the only industry event in the region that focuses on young filmmakers and helps them to pave the way for their debut features. Also, it is the only conference that emphasises film marketing, promotion and audience building as the main topic of the entire programme. Moreover, Meeting Point – Vilnius is organised during a very convenient and comfortable time of the year – in between Berlin and Cannes – and it has the right size and the right setting for striking a good balance between business, films and networking. The best way to evaluate the event is by witnessing the beneficial collaborations between films and sales agents, programmers and distributors.
Many projects presented at Meeting Point – Vilnius continue to thrive at international film festivals and on the distribution circuit. For instance, Arūnas Matelis’ documentary Wonderful Losers: A Different World [+see also:
film profile] has won Best Documentary Awards at both Warsaw and Minsk. Likewise, Falling [+see also:
interview: Marina Stepanska
film profile] by Marina Stepanska was selected at Karlovy Vary and Stockholm. Another beautiful example is that last year, Ana Urushadze presented her project for Scary Mother [+see also:
interview: Ana Urushadze
film profile]; this year, she will be competing with this feature in the European Debuts programme at Kino Pavasaris. Also, Scary Mother was awarded as Best First Feature at the Locarno Film Festival and was Georgia’s Oscars submission for the Best Foreign-language Film category. Earlier success stories involving Meeting Point – Vilnius collaborations include the Academy Award nominee Tangerines [+see also:
film profile] by Zaza Urushadze and the Sundance-winning The Summer of Sangaile [+see also:
interview: Alanté Kavaïté
film profile] by Alantė Kavaitė.
I guess the importance of participating in Meeting Point – Vilnius is plain to see from the successful projects and collaborations.
What are your expectations for the 23rd edition of the VIFF?
Satisfied festivalgoers, a tireless team of volunteers, new collaborations that will boost young filmmakers’ careers, and new friendships. I look forward to witnessing new love blossom between filmmakers and sales agents, distributors and festival programmers. And of course, I can’t wait to persuade people to fall in love with festival films. At least for two weeks, Vilnius will be the place to celebrate love for films and amazing stories from all across the world. Everyone is more than welcome to join us.
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