The film industry in Lithuania has achieved an importance on the international scene that belies the country’s relatively small stature. Proving itself a popular destination for international co-productions – partly thanks to competitive tax incentives –, the Baltic country has also seen a huge increase in its domestic audience.
One of the undoubted successes of 2015 was The Summer of Sangailė[+] by Alantė Kavaitė, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a stunt pilot, but believes that her desires will never come true. Still, when she meets Auste, her most intimate secrets become exposed, as her dreams lead her to experience the pleasures and pains of teenage love.
The film also nabbed Kavaitė the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance and went on to play at more than 50 festivals around the world including Berlin, Karlovy Vary, Busan, London and Warsaw. It was further given prominence when young lead actress Aistė Diržiūtė was shortlisted among the ten talented newcomer actors for the European Shooting Stars 2015.
As much as the film was a showcase of young and exciting Lithuanian talent, it was also a proof of the strong production ties between Lithuania and France. Produced by Lithuania’s Fralita Films and Les Films d’Antoine from France – the film was also co-produced by Viking Film from The Netherlands –, The Summer of Sangailė was one of many films that have seen a close working relationship between the two countries.
Between 1996 and 2014, there have been 15 co-productions between France and Lithuania. In 2015, this frutiful collaboration was deepened when Lithuanian and French ministers of culture Šarūnas Birutis and Fleur Pellerin signed an agreement on film co-production in Paris to facilitate cooperation between Lithuanian and French filmmakers.
The agreement addresses the issue of granting the status of co-production and provides balance in supporting ideas of filmmakers from both countries. The agreement lays out that the films with the status of a co-production will be considered national in both countries and will be eligible for the support offered for such films. The signing of this intergovernmental agreement is supposed to encourage filmmakers from both countries to implement their ideas collectively more often.
As healthy as the relationship between France and Lithuania is, Lithuania has also been attracting many other countries to shoot in the country, thanks to a number of competitive tax breaks.
The incentive involves a foreign production company, a Lithuanian production company, a local donor providing financial support to the film and the Lithuanian Film Centre, which administers the scheme. Foreign producers will need a local production company to be able to qualify for the incentives. The scheme can be applied to a whole film or a part of it. The production company saves 20% of the budget when filming in Lithuania, while the local donor is motivated by an opportunity to reduce the local corporate income tax.
Respected crews and infrastructures
To be eligible, the film has to meet cultural content and production criteria, with the film spend in Lithuania having to be at least €43,000 and at least 80% of Lithuanian production costs have to be spent in Lithuania.
In 2015, the Lithuanian Film Centre (LFC) issued 20 qualification certificates – 6 commissioned productions, 6 national productions, and 8 co-productions. Also in 2015, the LFC issued 22 investment certificates confirming that €2,668,506 had been granted by private investors aiming to exploit the corporate tax exemption. This support provided by 17 profitable companies helped implement 15 productions.
Co-production shot in the country last year included Bordertown (Fisher King Production Oy, Finland, Lithuanian producer: Ahil), Music in the Ice (Media Art Studio, Russian, Lithuanian producer: Artbox) and TheEichmann Show (UK, Lithuanian producer: Baltic Film Services). Also produced, was the BBC TV hit adaptation of War and Peace,produced by BBC Wales and The Weinstein Company, with the Lithuanian producer being Baltic Film Services.
But it is not just the tax breaks that companies are responding to. There is an increasing respect for the domestic crews and infrastructure. Speaking to the Lithuanian Tribune the director of War and PeaceTom Harper said: “Lithuania offered us the logistical support to film such large-scale battles. Shooting these war scenes is essentially quite dangerous. You are blowing things up whilst you are working very long hours. You need experts who know what they are doing. That is why we picked Lithuania.”
The domestic scene looks very positive as well, with revenues from ticket sales rising steadily, showing an almost 50% growth in 5 years, and three Lithuanian films amongst the top 10 highest grossing films in Lithuanian cinemas last year.
The growth continues and the Lithuanian film industry proves itself to be one of the most forward thinking and progressive among countries seeking to attract investment and showcasing young talent to the world. Lithuania is also proving itself a place that is garnering a reputation for talented crew and desirable locations.
TOP 5 LITHUANIAN FILMS (IN 2015)
Train Heist by Saulius and Paulius (Traukinio apiplešimas, kurj jvykde Saulius ir Paulius)
Devils Caught the Priest’s Benefits (Kunigo nauda velniai gaudo)
Arvydas Sabonis 11
TOP 5 TO WATCH OUT FOR IN THE COMING MONTHS
Seneca’s Day by Kristijonas Vidžiunas
Together For Ever[+] by Lina Lužyte
King’s Shift by Ignas Miškinis
The Saint by Andrius Blaževicius
Emilia by Donatas Ulvydas
TOP 5 PRODUCERS
The Summer of Sangaile by Alante Kavait (2015)
Emilia by Donatas Ulvydas
The Man Who Knew 75 Languages by Anne Magnussen
Breathing into Marble by Giedre Beinoriute
Together For Ever by Lina Lužyte
Dialogue with Joseph by Elzbieta Noemi Josade
When We Talk About KGB by Virginija Vareikyte and Maximilien Dejoie (2016)
Master and Tatyana by Giedre Zickyte (2014)
The Saint by Andrius Blaževicius
Watchkeeping by Karolis Kaupinis
The Amateurs by Audirius Antanavicius (2015)
Two Nights Till Morning by Mikko Kuparinen (2015)
The Last Inhabitant by Jivan Avetisyan
Habit and Armour by Pawel Pitera
Foam at the Mouth by Janis Nords
(This article has been published in the Cannes 2016 Market News daily by Le Film Français. )