In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group. Our EDN member of the month for August 2015 is Dagne Vildziunaite, producer, Just a Moment, Lithuania.
EDN has among other things talked to Dagne Vildziunaite about her recent documentaries Master and Tatyana and When We Talk About KGB, her involvement in the EURODOC and EAVE workshop programmes and the situation for documentary production in Lithuania.
Dagne Vildziunaite is a graduate of EAVE 2012, EX-ORIENTE 2011, and EURODOC 2010 and she holds a B.A. in both Psychology and TV and Film Management. Since 2003 she has worked as a freelance producer, copywriter and communication coordinator. In 2007 she established the production company Just a Moment – a Vilnius–based independent production company producing both documentary and fiction.
Among her recent titles as producer are Non Present Time (Mykolas Vildžiūnas), Master and Tatyana (Giedrė Žickytė), How We Played the Revolution (Giedrė Žickytė), Igrushki (Lina Luzyte), Father (Marat Sargsyan), and Julia (J. Jackie Baier).
EDN: Can you start by telling us more about your background and your way into film producing?
DV: I started my journey through the audiovisual jungle in 2004, leading me to the establishment of my own TV and film production company Just a Moment by the end of 2007. During this period I worked as producer, executive producer or communication manager in several TV shows, public cultural events, educational programs and practically learned to manage various projects of different scales – from one-day public events to a 20 series TV show. In order to bring together this practice with theory I took a one-year course of Economics and spent four years studying Film and TV management. But in reality my diplomas should be signed by other teachers – my directors and colleagues with whom I met at EAVE and EURODOC – development courses for beautiful personalities with serious ambitions in filmmaking.
EDN: What was your motivation behind launching your own company in 2007?
DV: I think it was quite a usual motivation – I met with director Mykolas Vildžiūnas and we wanted to work together. In order to start our first steps toward financing we had to have some legal body. That was the beginning of our company.
EDN: In your company you work with both fiction and documentary. Is there a common theme, style or genre in the projects you are involved in and how do you select the projects to produce?
DV: I do not really care so much about the type or even genre of the film I’m working with. But there are three other questions I ask myself before starting something new. First of all: I should be interested, concerned or in any way strongly related to the subject of the film? I just do not spend precious time on meaningless things. And then people are important. I believe working with the right people on a smaller thing can bring better results than working with the wrong team on an ambitious project. It brings no joy and no satisfaction neither in the process nor in the result. And the last but not the least important thing concerns the responsibility I feel being a film producer. I believe cinema is a super strong tool of propaganda and promotion. So I choose to “sell” only those ideas and values that I believe are right. For example, you could never come to me with a project promoting military ideas.
EDN: Last year you completed the documentary Master and Tatyana directed by Giedrė Žickytė. Among other acclaims the film won 4 Silver Cranes (the yearly awards presented by the Lithuanian Film Academy) – best documentary film, best cinematography, best editing and best director. Can you briefly tell what the film is about and how you got involved in the project?
DV: Together with Giedrė I started my first feature documentary – How we Played The Revolution and while working on our first documentary, we had started Master and Tatyana. The film tells the life and love story of an extremely talented Lithuanian photographer Vitas Luckus. Some called him a madman, others – a genius. Because he kept a live lion in his apartment. Because he was the first to go beyond Lithuanian surroundings and document the spontaneous reality of Soviet Republics. He lived in Vilnius with his beautiful wife Tatyana. They were the vibrant couple of the ‘60s. Just as vibrant was their home, always full of people, wine, nightlong conversations, guests from the farthermost places of the Soviet Union. His photographs, just like his eccentric lifestyle, make an impression until nowadays. The life of this Lithuanian artist is shown through the perspective of his relationship with Tatyana Aldag, who became more than a muse in his life.
EDN: What has it meant for the film nationally to receive such high acclaim? It must be rare – if ever – that a documentary takes home the award for best director?
DV: As I know it is only the second documentary with four national awards. And of course it means only good things. First of all, it is a huge step for film director Giedrė. She got the best documentary and the best director. Who can want more? Another very important thing is that we are starting cinema distribution this October and it is really a strong selling point. Four national awards is a very good card to play when fighting with a common skepticism about watching documentaries in cinemas.
EDN: How did you finance the film? Is it supported only with funds from Lithuania?
DV: Of course the main financing bodies are Lithuanian Film Center and Lithuanian Ministry of Culture. We also got CREATIVE EUROPE support and a presale commitment from SVT from Emelie Persson commissioning editor for the K Special culture slot. And our own investment was part of the financing too.
EDN: How do you see the international potential for the film and your distribution strategy, since it tells the story of a Lithuanian culture personality, who is not known by a wider international audience?
DV: Talking about international distribution, during these years I have developed my own strategy. Every new documentary I check with two or three – both bigger and smaller – sales companies. If they do not take the film because it is not easy to sell to broadcasters I do not waste time on searching for at least some company wanting to take it on and then I concentrate on festivals. Of course being a “not easy to sell” film also means it will not be easy to sell to festivals but at least I can give chances for directors to travel and present the result of their last 3 or 5 years work. It was the same story with this film. Vitas Luckus’ name is not enough to sell it, but the film has already started its festival journey and good rumors about it are spreading very fast.
EDN: You are a graduate of both EAVE and EURODOC. What was your motivation for taking part in both programmes and how did it benefit your career both in practical terms and in regards to your international network?
DV: As I have mentioned these two workshops and the people I met there were my real teachers. During the first session of EURODOC most of the things were new to me, and one could say that in EURODOC I got a Bachelor and in EAVE I got a Master. We do not have a good film production school in Lithuania, and at the time I started my company there were no professional courses you could attend in Lithuania. At that time I already had my family and I could not dedicate four more years for daily studies abroad. So I understood it very quickly – that such options and models as EURODOC and EAVE are a perfect choice for me. It is meant for people who have a strong motivation to learn more and a vision how to use this knowledge in their work.
And of course it is the best way to meet people – you spend time with them, you can discuss not only professional but more general topics and this is what you need to do before going into a long-term business and artistic relationship. In this sense we are in a very special business – you have piles of agreements on your table and a gang of creative people around your table.
EDN: One of the EAVE workshops for 2016 will take place in Lithuania and here you will be the local organizer. What motivated you to take this role and can you give some insights to the documentary production environment in Lithuania? What are the funding possibilities for documentaries? Which TV channels buy or co-produce documentaries?
DV: Last year, I also organized the third EURODOC session in Vilnius. So I had no doubts in taking the same role with the EAVE workshop. There are many reasons why to do this. First of all, I am happy to bring a big number of international producers to my country. Of course, we have great producers and our Film Center promoting Lithuania as a potential co-production partner but as you know promotion is not “enough”. At the same time it is a great opportunity for Lithuanian colleagues (especially younger ones) to meet all those people without the need of spending time and money that they do not have. For me, personally, it is also another way of meeting people. And talking more generally – it is all about giving and sharing. This is the basis of such workshops that I share in my work and personal life.
Talking about production environment, we have it all – great locations, very good professionals, tax incentives, creative producers. But of course a foreign director and / or producer also needs to have their motivation to come and work here. Although I think there is no limit in promotion, there is a limit in selling your service or product. I can show all the options and guarantee quality but I do not believe in selling motivation… the Lithuanian Film Center is the only option to fund international documentaries and there are three important things you need to know before considering Lithuania as your co-production partner – 100% of the Lithuanian fund support has to be spend in Lithuania, the majority of the money must be in place and you need to have creative input from Lithuania. LRT (National broadcaster) used to participate in co-production only with in-kind contributions (archival material, shooting equipment, editing service, etc.). Now I know some projects that got financial support but they all are strongly related to Lithuanian history.
EDN: Do you have any advice to an international producer interested in working in Lithuania or who has a project relevant for a Lithuanian co-production?
DV: We are a small country and our fund is not the richest in Europe and only has two calls in a year. That means that active reliable producers are really planning their project slots. That means they would not go with more than three projects for one call and would not get support for more than 2 projects. This is not a rule but this is reality. So I suggest to come as early as possible. Come one year before you want to apply and be sure to have at least part of the financing in place at the time of application. At the time of signing the agreement with our fund you need to have all the rest of the funding in place.
EDN: Which new projects are you working on at the moment?
DV: At the moment I’m finishing two great films. One is another documentary When We Talk About KGB by Italian director Maximilien Dejoie and Lithuanian director Virginija Vareikytė. This co-production with the Italian company Indastria Film is a beautiful film telling five personal stories of forgiveness and reconciliation with one’s past.
These are the stories that were left in the shadow of grief for Soviet crimes and euphoria for the fight for freedom. At the same time it is very much about “being born during a certain period of history that challenges every individual in a different way”. To my opinion, exactly this subject makes the film interesting today when everyone needs to find his or her own way in this period of constantly rising conflicts and misunderstanding among different nations, religions and continents.
Another one is a feature film by Lina Lužytė who directed the documentary film Igrushki, co-produced by a Romanian partner called Alien Film. It tells the story of a seemingly friendly three-member family living their ordinary life. But one day the 11-year–old daughter runs away from home and tells the police that she has neither mother nor father.
And I’m also the minority co-producer of the new film by Igor Cobileanski titled Eastern Business produced by our Romanian partner Alien Film. At the moment, we are in the shooting with Lithuanian DOP Feliksas Abrukauskas.