March 2, 2023 - Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius is 700 years young this year. This Spring it celebrates with a fresh wave of homegrown talent at the Vilnius International Film Festival (VIFF) that takes place March 16-26. Designated by the New York Times as one of 52 places to visit this year and one of CNN’s top destinations, Vilnius has been punching above its weight with a playful attitude to its relative obscurity on the European map - and so has the festival.
VIFF runs on creative thinking. Struck by a sudden global lockdown, its 2020 edition drew world news headlines when the festival turned the country’s airport into a drive-in theater. A year later, the programming moved into top hotels where locals could check into a room for the full immersive festival experience. Last year, the festival was one of the first to embrace Ukrainian films in favor of Russian works, another move that made it into the New York Times.
“In a world that’s constantly changing, it’s the ones who manage to adapt that survive,” notes VIFF CEO Algirdas Ramaška. “Our city meets the 700th anniversary full of energy about living in this vibrant period of its long history. It has proved the strength to be reborn after every challenge. In much the same way, VIFF and the Lithuanian film industry overcame the lockdown stronger than ever.”
A small country with three million inhabitants that joined the European Union in 2004, Lithuania has embraced its role as ‘New Europe’ with a vibrant sense of innovation in the arts, culture, food and tech. Ramaška brought that spirit to VIFF aka Kino Pavasaris (“Film Spring” in Lithuanian) by pioneering the ‘festival-as-national-distributor’ model, which he talked about recently at the European Film Market during the Berlin film festival.
That high level of creativity is also reflected in the upcoming 28th edition March 16-26 which features five Lithuanian features and five shorts. The festival’s industry hub Meeting Point Vilnius presents homegrown and international projects in post-production to its international participants of leading sales agents and festival programmers. “This fresh wave of strong work is one of the positive results from the lockdown,” explains Ramaška. “Filmmakers spent longer on the development of their screenplays, on actor rehearsals and pre-production. And it shows. VIFF and MPV are the perfect launch pads for these brand new films and the teams behind them.”
Industry program Meeting Point Vilnius (March 21-22) returns with its Coming Soon Competition for projects from Central/Eastern Europe/Caucasus and its Talents Nest that nurtures filmmakers from the regions. This year’s panels will examine the very creativity that VIFF was built upon: How to find new audiences? The topic will be explored from an audience, institution, and industry points-of-view.
Other VIFF program highlights include events at the Lithuanian Opera and Ballet Theater and special attention to Ukraine with a screening of the documentary MARIUPOLIS 2, during the making of which Lithuanian filmmaker Mantas Kvedaravičius was killed last year. and the Ukrainian fiction films LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG by Antonio Lukich and Philip Sotnychenko’s LA PALISIADA. The festival closes with a mystery screening; an observational documentary collectively shot by the Lithuanian film community on a voluntary basis–an unprecedented project never seen before in the country.
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.