Lukas Kacinauskas • Director of I Was Max
"Cinematic is what’s real, engaging and meaningful"
- After some success on the festival circuit with his movie, we talk to the Lithuanian director as he travels with the film to EFP’s Future Frames
Born in Lithuania, Lukas Kacinauskas began his career as an actor before moving to directing and screenwriting. Studying at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, his debut film is I Was Max (2021). Having already screened at the likes of GoShort and the Vilnius International Short Film Festival, the film will now unspool at the 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (1-9 July) as part of European Film Promotion’s Future Frames.
The film follows the title character Max as he enters into the uncertain world of online dating. Entering the car of Tadas, Max begins to feel uncomfortable as nervousness overtakes him. As Tadas tries to push Max beyond his comfort zone, Max must soon face the realities of who he is and who he wants to be. Veering between intensity and tenderness, Kacinauskas's film is a moving piece of work that explores identity and the fear of the unknown.
Cineuropa: The film feels like an intensely personal piece. What inspired it in the first place?
Lukas Kacinauskas: In the first place, it was my own experiences. During the coronavirus pandemic, all social life suddenly moved online, including dating. Although I am kind of a romantic who appreciates live dating, I finally decided out of curiosity to try dating apps. I soon realised that this is a kind of separate culture, with its own rules, habits, behavioural algorithms and so on. Then I realised how often it is difficult for people to be themselves in such circumstances. These experiences surprised me greatly and proved worthy of becoming a script.
Given that it’s still difficult to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in many ex-Soviet countries (and, indeed, sadly in many other countries around the world), with many attitudes still rooted firmly in the past, how important is it still to be able to tell stories like this?
I tend to think that I Was Max is not directly a LGBTQ+ film, which is even better. It is more of a universal story of timidity and self-knowledge. These are topics that are understandable and close to all people. LGBTQ+ characters are more of a special condition or circumstance in the film. In this way, they are portrayed simply, naturally, as a matter of course. I think it’s very important to make films that not only manifest, but also bring together different-minded sides.
Of course, much of the film hinges on the interplay of the two leads; how tough was it to find them and make sure they had chemistry?
Since I started acting myself, I have a pretty good eye for talents, so finding actors wasn’t that hard. And when it comes to chemistry, it is made up of many factors. But the most important thing is that I found common ground with the actors. We all listened to each other and believed in each other. When I asked for their feedback, they said they felt absolute trust in them. And that apparently gives the freedom that chemistry comes from.
It’s a very claustrophobic affair, set mostly within a car. How challenging is it to work within these restrictions yet still make something that is cinematic?
Well, it’s not that challenging. Cinematic - it is a very broad concept. For me, the portrait is cinematic, the persuasive actor is cinematic, the natural person is cinematic. Cinematic is what’s real, engaging and meaningful. In this film, it’s the actors and their micro environment. When I realise the visual concept, it becomes clear what will be cinematic.
What are you looking forward to at Karlovy Vary and Future Frames?
I’m looking forward to meeting interesting people, having meaningful conversations, learning and seeing something new. Also lots of smiles and laughter. I’m very happy to be part of this programme. It seems to prove that my stories matter. And I want to wish good luck to all who travel on the journey of self-knowledge.
What do you think your next project will be?
My next project will be a short film about sexual fluidity. It will be a very exciting, contemporary and yet versatile film.
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