True Lithuania

Cinema and TV in Lithuania

Lithuania’s cinemas are well suited to foreigners. All the movies (except some children ones) are shown in the original language with Lithuanian subtitles. In some cases, English or Russian subtitles are also available. This is especially true in cinema festivals that regularly shine in Lithuania’s cities. The most famous among those is Vilnius film festival “Kino pavasaris” that takes place every spring in Vilnius and travels around some other cities afterward. There are several newer ones, such as Kaunas Cinema Festival. The festival websites usually list languages and subtitles of particular flicks.

Traditional multiplex cinemas that mostly screen Hollywood production belong to several chains: Forum Cinemas, Atlantis Cinemas, Multikino. Almost every one of these cinemas is located in a modern shopping mall. Only in Vilnius, there is a multiplex cinema “Forum Cinemas Vingis” which is located in a separate building in the New Town. Only the five largest cities of Lithuania (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Panevėžys) have at least one modern cinema. Lithuanians are not avid cinema-goers and attempts to open private movie theaters in the smaller towns have failed.

Then there are “non-commercial” cinemas. The term “non-commercial” here is a marketing catchphrase because most of the movies shown there are made with having profit in mind, some even Hollywood production. However, the repertoire of these cinemas largely differs from the mainstream multiplexes with an emphasis European and less famous movies shown. Old movies also get screenings there. The quality of both video and sound is usually low but tickets also cost somewhat less. Such cinemas include Pasaka and Skalvija in Vilnius.

Lithuanian film industry has made a spectacular comeback in the 2010s. There is no Villywood but at least one Lithuanian movie is screened in cinemas at any given time, many with English subtitles. Lithuanian movie industry looked at Hollywood for inspiration and is now able to make profits through lower budgets and some state funding (but this does not mean bad quality). By 2014 Lithuanian movies captured 23% of the local box office, surpassing the European average.

The Lithuanian cinema comeback was preceded by TV series comeback in the 2000s, mostly telenovelas aimed at women. Despite their local success, both Lithuanian TV series and movies have failed to attract global audiences so far. While Oscars, Golden Globes, and Palme d'Ors are still out of reach the local "Sidabrinė gervė" (Silver crane) award gained prominence.

The current situation is a great improvement since the 1990s when Lithuanian cinema was limited to rare state-funded arthouse movies which used to have a very limited screening even in Lithuania itself.

Before that there were Lithuanian-language Soviet flicks (1950s-1980s) that are still regarded with nostalgic overtones by the older generation. Most of these are soaked in propaganda, however, such as “Niekas nenorėjo mirti” (“Nobody Wanted to Die”) where the Lithuanian resistants against the Soviet occupation are portrayed to kill innocent children in cold blood. The very first scenes of this movie include denunciation of religion by the main character – an honest communist (a complete antithesis to the villain Lithuanian freedom fighters).

Arguably the most famous Lithuanian movie character, Tadas Blinda was popularized by a 1973 Lithuanian-language Soviet film (left) and re-adopted for a 2011 prequel (right). The style and morals of the two films are all different, however: a Robin Hood-like fighter against the rich in the Soviet film Tadas Blinda is portrayed as more of a National Revival figure in the prequel. Ironically, the real-life Tadas Blinda was simply a 19th-century thief.

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