“As our future audience, it’s important to involve youngsters at an early stage”

– With the 17th edition under way, the head and managing director of the Vilnius Short Film Festival share their thoughts on the gathering’s new visual identity and its ongoing evolution

Rimantė Daugėlaitė, Gabrielė Cegialytė  • Head and managing director, Vilnius Short Film Festival

(© Tautvydas Stukas)

The Vilnius Short Film Festival (17-23 January) participates in the Young Programmers for Young Audiences European Film Festival Network (Young4Film) and hosts a short-film criticism workshop initiated by The European Network for Film Discourse (END) and the short-film magazine Talking Shorts. With 21 programmes and more than 100 films, this 17th edition features a diverse line-up. Meanwhile, the Industry Days (18-19 January) highlight young audience development, film criticism and cinematic storytelling, with the most popular event being the scriptwriting workshop. Cineuropa sat down with the event’s head and its managing director, Rimantė Daugelaitė and Gabrielė Cegialytė, to discuss the latest edition.

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Cineuropa: What prompted the festival’s re-evaluation of its identity and the focus on accessibility and inclusion?
Rimantė Daugelaitė:
As it’s an evident stage to rethink the festival’s identity, values, audience and attractiveness, the rebranding idea had been on our minds for a while. Together with our long-term graphic designer and the creative agency Autoriai, we started working on the festival’s new identity, simultaneously focusing on accessibility and inclusion.

Gabrielė Cegialytė: We are taking our first steps. It’s impossible to become fully accessible overnight, because the cinemas are not accessible for wheelchair users, and it’s tough to ensure that all of the programmes meet the needs of people with hearing or vision impairments. Improving accessibility is not a one-time focus, but rather a continuous effort and our vision for the festival’s future.

What do these first steps look like in practice?
At least one screening venue – namely, the MO Museum [Modern Art Museum] – is tailored to people with different disabilities, and both national competition programmes have SDH subtitles [subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing] and audio description. We also provide sign-language translators for the opening ceremonies, awards and national competition’s Q&A sessions in Vilnius.

Alongside changing the logo, you also removed the word “international” from the title, thus making it the Vilnius Short Film Festival. Why?
We feel mature and well known enough to part with the “international” bit. Yet that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped being international. A shorter title is also more practical, especially in Lithuanian. Another reason is that, as the only short-film festival in Lithuania, we want to accentuate the “short film” aspect in the title.

The Vilnius SFF is the biggest film festival in Lithuania showcasing only shorts. What is the event’s place in the overall Lithuanian film industry and its role when it comes to promoting shorts?
 Currently, we are an important player in the Lithuanian film industry, and the local and European short-film scene. Over the years, we’ve noticed that the demand for shorts and the festival’s curated programmes has grown immensely.

GC: The success is also related to the [Lithuanian Shorts] agency’s promotional activities. Even though we always want to separate the festival from the agency, our work is interconnected. For a long time, the festival was the only representative of short films because the Lithuanian Shorts agency and Lithuanian Film Centre were only established in 2012. 

How would you characterise this year’s national competition?
 It’s eclectic and rich in form and content. The selection is universal – it reflects on global topics, as opposed to the times when, quality-wise, there was a distinct difference between the Lithuanian and the international short-film scenes.

GC: We received over 50 Lithuanian submissions, which is a lot. The festival gives an equal spotlight to both established filmmakers and emerging voices. The gathering also tends to showcase the films that have already been screened elsewhere simply because they’ve had a limited screening window. 

What does it mean for the festival to host the Talking Shorts criticism workshop?
It’s great that there is an initiative that promotes short-film criticism and brings emerging European critics to Vilnius. It is essential for us that they have a networking platform and that they can learn more about the short-film format and Lithuanian cinema.

GC: We also organise a Lithuanian short-film criticism programme called Shorts Critics. The need to create it came from the lack of interest in short films coming from the media. We saw the gap and the potential.

The Industry Days pay particular attention to young audiences and young professionals. The festival has also participated in the Young4Film network. Could you elaborate on this commitment to the inclusion of young people in the decision-making process?
Through Young4Film, we learned what topics are important for younger audiences. What excited us is that young programmers [16- to 18-year-olds] discussed the films so thoroughly and passionately. Last year, the unifying theme was “Protest”; this year, it’s “The Searchers”.

RD: It’s important to involve these youngsters at an early stage. As our future audience, they familiarise themselves with the shorts and the curatorial process. Also, for the first time, we have child programmers who have selected shorts from the film pool prepared by the Clermont-Ferrand ISFF. It’s educational for both sides to let kids in on this discussion and reflection.

What are your conclusions about the festival’s development process?
We tend to use all these big words like “the most”, “the biggest” and “the only”; however, it’s important to stress that we lean towards the festival growing in quality, not only quantity. This edition brings the biggest number of programmes and films in the festival’s history. As well as the many aforementioned collaborations, we’ve also worked with Riga ISFF 2ANNAS for the Signe Baumane shorts retrospective and with the Swedish Film Institute for the Swedish focus.

RD: Also as part of the Triangle project, we cooperate with the Lago Film Fest and Vienna Shorts. Sometimes acquiring all these partners and maturing seems like a natural thing, yet this evolution proves that we are considered as a trusted partner and the short-film industry is united, especially in comparison to the competitiveness [that exists] among the feature-film festivals.

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