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Vilnius Film Festival goes digital but still invites you to the opening ceremony


- The 25th edition of the Lithuanian gathering is adapting to the latest restrictions, keeping a few surprises up its sleeve

Vilnius Film Festival goes digital but still invites you to the opening ceremony

Following the cancellation of all public events in Lithuania owing to the spread of the coronavirus, the 25th Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris – scheduled to take place from 19 March-2 April – will move more than half of its programme onto streaming platforms. This will make it, as stated by media representative Vaiva Zemkauskaitė, “the first digital festival in the country”.

“We are preparing for an extreme edition,” CEO Algirdas Ramaška tells Cineuropa – via Skype, obviously. “For the last five years, we have already been experimenting with VoD releases. We used to work with two platforms, and now it looks like we will use four or five. Our programmers have contacted all of the sales agents and the filmmakers, asking if they are willing to go online with us. Most of them have been very supportive. Nobody knows what results we will have, but it’s a chance not to lose the audience, still allowing them to see these great films.”

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With the titles available to local viewers for two weeks, including the opening film, Proxima [+see also:
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, and Mathias & Maxime, originally set to close the festival, all of the competition programmes will be watched by the juries online, with the awards expected to be handed out as usual. But the organisers are also looking forward to moving back to the cinemas once the danger has passed, with special screenings planned in the foreseeable future.

“The cinemas are closed, and they have no other option. But once it is safe again, with the power we have as a festival, we can bring people back,” says Ramaška. “There are some films that need to be seen on the big screen, and we will have a smaller edition of the festival later on. They are waiting, and we are waiting, basically. We need to support each other – this is the time. I am sure there will be interesting solutions coming up all the time, and hopefully we can inspire other cultural sectors to think outside the box. So let’s try not to get depressed and see it all as an opportunity instead.” And a chance to get creative, it seems.

“We want to keep some crucial parts of the festival intact, so we will be organising the opening ceremony online, or maybe even have a live stream on TV. We will still send out the invitations, just like every year, inviting people to the opening ceremony in their own home, encouraging them to dress up and send us pictures – to be published later in our local magazine,” he enthuses. “We have a culinary partner, too, so why not make some videos at home, preparing meals with your family, and then watch our films together? Or maybe set up a 'bar' online, where people can chat?”

Despite mounting difficulties, Ramaška encourages others to see the crisis as a chance to re-think the existing festival model. “We will have some losses, for sure, but our mayor was optimistic about us moving online, with all these people staying at home – we can provide them with high-quality content,” he notes. “It’s a hard time, but I said to our team: ‘We will stick to our agreements, we will keep on paying the salaries, and we will find a way to sustain it.’ It should serve as a lesson: it’s not just about the films, but also about seeing how the audience reacts and what the new trends are, also in management. Of course, nothing can prepare you for a situation like this, but at least you will be one step forward already. And then, maybe, we have a chance to survive.”

Last year, the Vilnius International Film Festival Kino Pavasaris was attended by 126,542 moviegoers, making it the largest cinema event in Lithuania.

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