Rita Stanelytė is the head of “Meeting Point – Vilnius”, the industry segment of the Vilnius Film Festival – Kino Pavasaris. An avid cinephile, she would attend the festival (since its first edition) as part of the audience when she was studying in the capital of Lithuania. While working a corporate job, she would take two weeks off just to watch films at Kino Pavasaris. One day, she left her well-paid corporate job and went traveling around South East Asia with her husband for nine months. But, when she came back, a job as communication manager at the festival was waiting for her. When the festival decided to create an industry segment, she became its head, thus deepening her long-standing relationship with the cinematic event.
At this year’s Vilnius Film Festival, “Fade to Her” caught up with Rita.
How would you compare your work as Head of Industry at Kino Pavasaris as opposed to that of other women at other film festivals? Do you have the same approach? Do you work the same way? Do you have a good relationship?
Rita Stanelytė: Well first of all, in Vilnius, we have a really friendly team, and I think this is very important. Most of the times, especially during the festival, we feel like a family, our internal chat is called “Kino Pavasaris Famiglia” – we work for each other, we cherish each other, help each other… If I have to compare myself with other Heads of Industry, it would depend on the festival, because they differ in terms of how big they are, how well-funded they are, or where their industry event is headed. But, I think that, overall, the industry managers have the same challenges: how to involve the industry and help the festival grow in the first place, and then, help the local industry grow and find benefits for it in wider geographic terms.
In Lithuania, women are really strong. Can you comment on that?
R.S.: Women are strong everywhere, not only in Lithuania. And, talking about women working in the cultural sphere, I think that this is a plus, because in cultural management you have to be soft and organized, and think strategically. This really works, especially in the cultural sphere, where there are so many small details that you have to take into account.
The discussion on the #MeToo movement in Lithuania today somewhat suggests the contrary. How have you decided to incorporate it into this year’s “Meeting Point – Vilnius”? I am also interested in the fact that there was no reaction from the film institutions – weren’t you afraid of the repercussions on the relationship between the film festival and the film institutions?
R.S.: Well, today is the Zero Day of “Meeting Point – Vilnius”, which is meant for the Lithuanian film industry, and we usually talk about issues that are most important for us, for our small industry and its effects on it. So, this is why we talked about the collaboration between Film and Television and we discussed the distribution of national films in Lithuanian theaters. Now, #MeToo is another issue that shook Lithuania and its film industry last year and we thought it was essential to talk about it as well as gender equality in the film industry. As the biggest film industry event in Lithuania, we cannot ignore that and it is very important for all of us to talk about it. So, we offered the festival as a platform for those young film professionals to speak up and present their initiative. They started this discussion and then they created an open letter, and we thought it was very important for them to talk about it here and not on social media where everyone talks without arguments. It doesn’t matter what your initial opinion is – whether you are pro or con –, but what matters is to talk about it. We don’t think that the institutions should or could react negatively to the things we want to talk about. We want to discuss it – discussion is extremely important.
Do you think the institutions and the general public will react eventually? That the discussion that has taken place today will have a positive consequence?
R.S.: Yes. I think that it might, but it’s just the beginning. We have to talk, because, like I said, discussion is essential as well as being able to gather, talk and have the institutions who can have their say in the matter present.
And, how would say that #MeToo is represented and accepted in Lithuania, from your point of view? As far as I understood from the discussion, it hasn’t been embraced fully.
R.S.: It hasn’t been embraced fully – that’s why we are saying that we need education and a lot of discussion – I think that the strength comes from talking about it. You have to understand the Lithuanian character. First, people are very shy. Then, we have always been a very homogeneous society in all aspects. So, anything that is out of the norm is treated with caution. It might also come from the Soviet times when our parents’ generation didn’t think differently, didn’t practice other religions, didn’t follow other political systems, or haven’t seen people from other races or other countries. So, this could be one of the reasons and there’s also the older and middle generation who still have this perception of “better not talk about it” if the question is awkward. That’s the result of this homogeneity and not being used to think differently. But, this is the thing, there are so many young people in the film industry who are already making their opinions known and voices heard and this is a fantastic initiative of theirs, which we cannot say “no” to.
So, you as a festival and you personally, support the open letter?
R.S.: I personally support it. Kino Pavasaris is saying: “Let’s talk about it,” because there is no one universal truth. There is no white or black, there are so many shades in-between.
How do you see women in the film industry? There’s a lot of talk about it today. Can you tell me your opinion on it and how you see yourself in it?
R.S.: I don’t like to divide men and women, film industry heads, directors… Although I am very pro-women and pro-equal rights, I think that in the film industry the most important thing is Film or the art of filmmaking – Is it good or is it bad? It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man behind the camera. I don’t think it is right to have this categorization in terms of sex. For me, really, first of all, if there is talent, if there is a good film and if there is an idea in the film, it really doesn’t matter. In cultural management – well, in any management – where you have to think not only strategically but also tactically, I think that women are very good organizers because they have to organize everything from their everyday life, their kids, and their work to what they do and all the daily logistics. So, that’s why I think that they are good organizers and that they also tend to think of the details, because in our industry, the devil is in the detail…
Do you pay attention to details in your job?
R.S.: I want to believe I do!
I assume you are happy with what you do, how you’re doing it and how you’re developing “Meeting Point – Vilnius”. But, is there anything you would have done differently or that you plan to change in the future?
R.S.: Yes, I am happy. I think we are developing “Meeting Point – Vilnius” in a really good way, and we’re headed in a good direction. We have our main objectives that we want to achieve, we know what we want to do with our industry event and we are headed in this direction. The main challenge for us is the financial support, but I think that every single person working for a festival or its industry event is facing this kind of problem. But, the main thing is that – and I am always telling myself when I am organizing this – is to see the purpose: Why we are doing this? And, not just because every festival has an industry event and that’s why. No! We need this because we want the Lithuanian film industry to develop, because we want the Baltic film industry to grow and because we see the new talents and the new potential in the region. We are really happy that there are so many talented directors and producers now in Lithuania who want to work, have initiatives and ideas and are able to find new ways to make their film happen. I think that these new talents are also the force that drives me to work for them and when one of the participants of my event comes and says it was very fruitful for him/her, and that he/she has made good relations and partnerships, it is music to my ears.
How would you say that “Meeting Point – Vilnius” helps develop the Lithuanian film industry?
R.S.: The first thing that comes to my mind is just a lot of really influential people coming to Lithuania that our filmmakers can meet and have much more time with or more of their attention than they would get at the Berlinale or in Cannes, because we understand that the experts’ time here in Vilnius is much longer than the experts’ time you’d get in Cannes as it’s a different setting and it’s much more relaxed. This is a big potential and it’s also one of the main things about our festival – it’s of such a size that you can still meet everyone you need to meet.
What is new in this year’s edition of “Meeting Point – Vilnius”?
R.S.: There are two main things that we focus on during our industry event and that’s, on the one hand, debut filmmakers and, on the other, film marketing and promotion. These are the core things that we have always been and always will be focusing on because we think that spotlighting new talents and first-time filmmakers and helping them boost their careers is extremely important and valuable. When we started “Meeting Point – Vilnius”, we thought that we had to focus on film marketing as it is the sphere of filmmaking that is very underappreciated in our part of Europe – maybe everywhere in Europe, actually – and film marketing and film promotion are sometimes the inherent selling points of a film. So, we are not putting anything new on the table, but we want to go deeper into these two subjects and mix them together and see what happens; for example, how the careers of the debut filmmakers who come here progress, how their films fare on the festival circuit, and from the marketing side of things, invite professionals to talk about it, about what their experience in the film industry on that particular subject is, show some case studies in order for the attendees to have an idea and take something from that.
Do you think that the initiatives that you are organizing are helping women in the (Lithuanian) film industry and have an impact on their career?
R.S.: Yes. But, we do not separate genders. We bring filmmakers who have a story to tell, who want to be successful and who want their film to travel. We see the filmmakers, we don’t care if it’s a woman or a man – we look at the quality of their projects and what they do. We have a very good example from last year combined with this year – we had the “Meeting Point – Vilnius” project Scary Mother from Georgia, by Ana Urushadze, a young and talented filmmaker. She was selected in the “Coming Soon” pitchings, came here and presented her project. Later on, she finished the film and it traveled to the summer film festivals and it got the Best First Feature Prize in Locarno and then the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Feature Film. This year, Ana Urushadze came to Vilnius with Scary Mother which screened in the Competition of European Debuts of the Vilnius Film Festival, so I think this is the perfect example of how “Meeting Point – Vilnius” contributes to a film in the sense that after being in the works-in-progress, it goes straight into the Competition program of the Vilnius Film Festival.
And, how is your relationship with the Lithuanian Film Centre? How do you work together? How do you help each other?
R.S.: We do help each other a lot. The Lithuanian Film Centre was founded in 2012. It’s a really new organization and I always give them a lot of credit because they are really trying to lay the foundation for their work and what they have done in these brief years of their existence is really important. We work together because we see the common goals in terms of how to develop the industry, and we do a lot together, we cooperate, and they also help us a lot through consultations and know-how.
Which film festivals do you work with?
R.S.: Well, we now have a cooperation with the Cannes Film Market. But, of course, that’s a minority cooperation. But, we are very happy about this collaboration because it’s, I think, a big plus for the filmmakers who are presenting their projects at our “Meeting Point – Vilnius”. We have a really good relationship with the Transilvania Film Festival too. For example, every year, we exchange volunteers: Lithuanians go to Cluj and Romanians help here in Vilnius. This is a lot of fun for the volunteers personally, but also a big stimulus and exchange of ideas for both festivals.
What about the cooperation with other Baltic film festivals?
R.S.: We are also working a lot with the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, of course, because we present Baltic films. There is no rivalry there at all; it is just a very good friendship, and we really think that we are stronger together in making Baltic films happen. And, thank you for mentioning the cooperation with Baltic film festivals because our new sister festival, the Riga International Film Festival, is in its fourth edition this year, and I am very supportive of them. I think a strong festival makes a strong industry.
This interview was conducted during the 2018 Vilnius Film Festival.