Lithuania has been one of the most resilient supporters of Ukraine during the Russian-inflicted war and many arts, entrepreneurial, educational communities, as well as private persons, have been organizing protests, initiatives, and donating millions of Euros to war relief organizations.
Now, Vilnius International Film Festival, the largest cinema event in the country, joins other local and global creative communities in paying homage to Ukrainian creators and inviting spectators to screenings in selected Lithuanian cinemas as well as one of the most esteemed centers of culture—the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre.
The event, which will be showing 90 feature films and 51 short films from 56 countries, dedicated its opening night on March 24 to Ukrainian colors and symbols: blue and yellow colors were displayed on the screen while the hall of Forum Cinema Vingis in Vilnius, the capital, was bedecked in sunflowers—the reminder of war fatalities and a glimmer of hope for those still fighting. The opening night screened First Cow by American director Kelly Reichardt, awarded Best Film title at New York Film Critics Circle Awards 2020.
The Festival is also the first event of this kind to boycott all Russian filmmakers following a petition by the Ukrainian Film Academy. Having removed Russian films and co-productions from the program, the organizers will be screening Ukrainian films from past years.
At the same time, the Festival will invite all Ukrainian refugees to watch films for free, and several screenings will have films translated to their native language. Lithuania has already welcomed over 28K war refugees from Ukraine to date, and one of the films, Belle by Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda, was dubbed by Ukrainian refugee actor Karina Chernyavskaya.
“Our annual mission to show quality cinema was given a new meaning this year. For this reason, we will commit to creating a reason and a place to meet up, be together, and feel a sense of unity and normalcy, which, according to psychologists, is essential right now, as much as possible,” said Algirdas Ramaška, CEO of the Festival.
The Festival is celebrating the return of live events after two pandemic years by upscaling its main venue this year and hosting screenings in one of the most prestigious cultural spaces in the country—the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. The theatre, located in the heart of Vilnius and on the shores of the Neris River, was built in 1974 and has become an iconic symbol of Lithuanian culture and arts throughout the years.
By transferring to a high culture venue, the event aims to show the undeniable value of cinema, as well as celebrate world-famous creators and films—Annette by cult favorite French director Leos Carax, Circus by Charles Chaplin, and many more. Other venues will also screen Pilgrims, a debut by Lithuanian director Laurynas Bareiša, which won the Orizzonti Award at Venice Film Festival 2021, as well as many other films.
Moreover, the Festival will include Meeting Point—Vilnius 2022, the work-in-progress audiovisual industry event, which aims to scout, develop, and support European creators and their debut films, at the same time creating a cross-Europe cinematic network.
Even though traditional events were scrapped during the pandemic, the unprecedented situation evoked several creative decisions on behalf of organizers in the past several years: drive-in screenings at Vilnius Airport, unlimited screenings in hotel rooms, and the option to see all films in the comforts of one’s home.
Vilnius International Film Festival will take place from March 24 till April 3 in selected Lithuanian cinemas.