On 27 March 2018, a discussion on the impact of the #MeToo movement on the Lithuanian film industry took place within the framework of Meeting Point – Vilnius, the industry event of the Vilnius Film Festival. And, what it revealed was akin to a nightmare worthy of any cinematic dystopian society where the moral compass is in a dire need to be readjusted. “Fade to Her” caught up with three of the panelists and members of the Lithuanian film industry, award-winning actress Aistė Diržiūtė, director and producer Marija Kavtaradzė and film historian and critic Lina Makinskaitė-Jančorienė.
Can you explain what prompted this event, what was Lithuania’s reaction to the #MeToo movement and how it has been received here?
Marija Kavtaradzė: When the scandal happened with the most famous Lithuanian director Šarūnas Bartas –when he was accused by two women who had worked with him – the reactions were mostly bad with victim blaming, etc. And after, everyone forgot it because the Lithuanian Film Centre and the Government didn’t react to the situation; they merely wrote a post on Facebook in which they were absolutely indifferent. It wasn’t a support at all. Then, he had a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française where he was happily presenting his films.
Aistė Diržiūtė: He was avoiding the questions about this particular subject. Long story short, the retrospective at the Cinémathèque was advertised by the poster of The Summer of Sangailė’s star, Julija Steponaityte, who first accused him on Facebook. It was an open secret in the film industry and everybody was just talking about when it was going to happen, when someone would finally talk. So, she took the whole responsibility and was the first to talk. The still from the film The Summer of Sangailė was used for the summer edition of Cahiers du Cinéma and the film was in the top ten for the summer, because it had won at Sundance and had a successful festival life. The picture of the victim was used to advertise the films of the accuser. And, this is the paradox. The actress was completely abandoned, ignored from all the events, even if she lives in Paris. But, everyone greeted him with huge respect, applauses… And later, the only reaction came from the Mayor of Vilnius who kicked him out of his studio because he had been renting the studio from the Municipality of Vilnius. The only comments were: “Oh, we need to hear his reaction…” and he didn’t say anything. He was silent and then he said: “It didn’t happen.” That’s all. Nothing more. Knowing that, years ago he had already spent money given to him to make a film and there were no reactions about it. And, this year, even after the scandal, he received the highest grant from the Lithuanian Film Centre to make another film – half a million euros – no questions asked.
So, basically, what you are saying is that no one apart from the Vilnius Film Festival and the Mayor of Vilnius has reacted. None of the Government institutions have said anything?
A.D.: No one. Literally, there were no reactions, only from the Vilnius Film Festival and the Mayor of Vilnius. There was no reaction from the Lithuanian Film Centre. They were just saying that we should wait for an answer from Bartas.
It amounts to the hands of the Lithuanian Film Centre being tied because Bartas is a big name?
A.D.: Yes! And they need him.
M.K.: What we are saying is that it’s their decision.
A.D.: They chose to praise the genius. He is not just “a” director; he is “the” director. He has his premieres in Cannes and they need it.
But, they also need the women…
A.D.: No, they don’t… But, of course, when they win something they are super happy about it. But, that’s it.
But, The Summer of Sangailė was so successful and they are not protecting its actress!
A.D.: Yes! That’s the biggest paradox! The Summer of Sangailė was praised all over the world and its star is now left alone. They just used her.
Lina Makinskaitė-Jančorienė: He has a very strong status in the film industry. You know, Lithuanian independent cinema started with him and “Kinema”, which was the heart of the independent Lithuanian Cinema and, here, he is a celebrated auteur. Again, like all small industries, we celebrate auteur Cinema where men are really very strong. And, I talked about statistical data on women, how many female filmmakers we have here. Everybody thinks we have a lot and that equality is in the process, that it’s quite progressive, but our research showed we still have only 12% women directors at the helm of fiction feature films, which means that nothing has changed in twenty years. It’s again about stereotypes. And, again, in fiction feature films, it looks like female producers are predominant. But, no, it’s only 35% of films with only female producers. Our statistical data encouraged us to rethink some things about Lithuanian Cinema. There is, for example, no female cinematographer working on feature films – we have them in classical areas such as documentaries and short films, but not in fiction feature films where all the money and power are. We have a very classical situation and it’s still quite a bad situation. In fiction feature films, the predominance is male and they dictate the approach toward accusations. So, when the most important and powerful director is accused by “who knows her? – She was in The Summer of Sangailė that was made by a certain Alantė Kavaitė… Who knows her? Oh yeah, she lives in France…” Because in Lithuania, the approach towards this particular film was like nothing special had happened within the whole industry. So, that’s why Julija, the leading actress nobody saw the big issue and nobody actually discussed it. There is, unfortunately, still no reaction.
Do you think now that the platform that has been given to you by the Vilnius Film Festival to speak up something will change? That today’s discussion will have an effect?
M.K.: I hope so!
What was the reaction now after the discussion? Was there anything?
L.M-J.: The people from the Lithuanian Film Centre only gave a statement that they will do something, but they don’t know what exactly – maybe discuss it with the entire film industry and do something after…
A.D.: “It’s important to talk. All forms of sexual harassment are not a good thing”. That’s all they said.
Do you think, for instance, that there might be repercussions on an institutional level such as a refusal to give financing to those who talked – yourselves included?
A.D.: Some people are really afraid to talk, because they want to remain in their comfort zone, which is to not say anything, and it basically amounts to: “I have a point of view, but I will not say anything.”
You are saying that the Lithuanian Film Centre has the power to change everything and they are not doing anything? They are the ones pulling the strings of the Lithuanian film industry…
L.M-J.: They are not pulling those strings as they should be; they are relinquishing all responsibility of all the film community, of the film industry.
M.K.: Yes, this is the only place where you can get your film financed, especially if you want national funding and that’s why people are scared to talk. That’s also why some producers haven’t signed the open letter even though they support its content.
A.D.: It was super stressful to talk here because the Lithuanian Film Centre and a lot of producers were sitting on the other side and, here, on our side were sitting a young producer and a young actress who are part of the industry and we are supported by the Government, but …
L.M-J.: It’s still a big problem – sorry, Aistė – I will just add that the main power of decision belongs to the commission that is made up of many female film critics who are very powerful and who do not support #MeToo officially. So, when you talk about issues in the Lithuanian film industry aloud, like in Marija’s or Aistė’s case, they will see their names on a project and say: “Oh those girls… For them, equality is more important; they’re quite crazy and they make bad films.” They will just jump to conclusions and accusations because of stereotypes.
A.D.: This means that you are not comfortable, because you are talking. That’s what I said yesterday – I am going to dress in black not because of #MeToo, but because I am going to my funeral as an actress in Lithuania…It’s a joke, but it’s so true!
So, women are not supporting women?
M.K.: In the commission of the Lithuanian Film Centre, which decides about the funding, there are more women than men – older especially – and most of them are sexist …
L.M-J.: And, most of them are very close friends of Bartas’…
They are not condemning it, but they are implicitly accepting it?
L.M-J.: It’s nothing special, according to them…
A.D.: And, that’s the worst part, because it IS something special. And, they are saying that Julija, for instance, is not focusing on acting, that she is using the situation, because she is currently working in post-production and acts when there is an interesting project, but it’s not her main focus. And, that was part of the reason why she was strong enough to talk. Also, because she doesn’t live here. The reaction was horrible when she posted it on Facebook, not only for her, but for all the people who support her. We were a kind of bumper; we talked to some media who can be tricky just to show that she is not alone, because it was horrible, because the first reactions were victim blaming and shaming, and it was only then that the second girl talked. We encouraged the older generations of actresses to talk because it is so important, but they were so afraid to do it even though there were already two accusations. And, there are so many women who remain silent.
Basically, the #MeToo movement in Lithuania hasn’t been fully embraced?
L.M-J.: It’s the same in theater, sports, politics…
A.D.: One of the theater directors and professors here was accused of really horrible things like forcing – sorry for the vocabulary, but I want to show the situation – his students to keep his genitalia in their hands, and that’s not the only accusation; there are loads of them. Everybody at the Academy and in the theater world knew about his “methods” of working. Guess what? With a fine, he wasn’t allowed to teach at the Academy after all these accusations, but then he came back because “it’s alright” and he’s teaching again. However, on the other side, talking about the Academy of Arts, all the professors who were accused were kicked out. And, only one – ONLY ONE – person who was accused apologized out of all these people and said: “Yes, I was probably wrong then – I didn’t understand the limits”; though his accusations are really small compared to putting the male reproductive organ in his students’ hands and so on…
You’re the only ones who have done something so far and the festival has given you the platform to speak up. The result is an open letter.
To be signed by the 5 April and open for reactions until 1 June?
L.M-J.: At Scanorama, another film festival, there was also a discussion on #MeToo in November last year.
M.K.: No reaction.
A.D.: This is why this point is very important, because we finally made something physical. We literally are asking them eye to eye: “What are you going to do?” not “What could you perhaps do?”
This interview was conducted at the 2018 Vilnius Film Festival.