Lithuania’s cinemas are well suited to foreigners. All the movies (except some children-oriented 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 (some of the movies are also shown in other cities). 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 typically 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 lower 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 a denunciation of religion by the main character, who is a honest communist (a complete antithesis to the villain Lithuanian freedom fighters).
Some Lithuanian theatre-goers used to proclaim that Lithuanian theater directors are better known abroad than at home. This sentence marks both the quality of Lithuanian theater and the supposed lack of appreciation for it in Lithuania itself. This was always an exaggeration but the Lithuanian directors like Eimuntas Nekrošius, Oskaras Koršunovas or Rimas Tuminas are indeed regular guests at world class theater festivals. Yet they are also greatly enjoyed by the Lithuanian public with some plays getting sold out weeks or months in advance.
Theater tickets are cheaper in Lithuania than in the West. However, the performances are not aimed at tourists as all plays are in Lithuanian language (with the exception of the Russian repertoire of Vilnius Russian Drama Theater). If that doesn’t detract you there are many theaters in all the major cities. Some of the main state-sponsored ones are the Nacionalinis dramos teatras, Jaunimo teatras, Mažasis teatras (all in Vilnius), Kauno dramos teatras (Kaunas), Klaipėdos dramos teatras (Klaipėda), Šiaulių dramos teatras (Šiauliai), Juozo Miltinio dramos teatras (Panevėžys). In Vilnius, there is also a commercial Domino theater which offers a repertoire of lighthearted comedies.
However, all of the above are merely a pinnacle of Lithuania’s theater world as there are many small troupes, some of which have their own premises while others perform in a different hall every time. In summer theaters travel around the country and show plays in resort towns such as Palanga.
Opera and ballet are more accessible to foreigners. Operas are now always presented in the original language with Lithuanian subtitles. Operettas, on the other hand, are presented in the translated form. The ticket costs are not expensive by western standards. The plays are less innovative than some of those at drama theaters and consist of the classics sometimes adorned with modern decorations. There is a single opera and ballet theater in Lithuania (in Vilnius). Additionally, the “Bohemiečiai” troupe presents its irregular performances of operas and musicals sometimes. In Kaunas, Klaipėda and Panevėžys there are so-called “Musical theatres” (Lithuanian: muzikinis teatras). Their repertoire also holds more international appeal than that of drama theaters.
Historically, the Lithuanian theater developed relatively late. Before the 19th century, the rare local performances were not in Lithuanian language and catered to linguistic minorities which then dominated the high society. In 1864 the ruling Russian Empire banned Lithuanian language altogether. This didn't stop the subsequent National Revival. Among many popular illegal institutions that developed in Lithuanian-speaking villages were so-called "barn theaters", which offered amateur-yet-emphatic clandestine Lithuanian performances.
Lithuania established its professional national theater after independence (1918). During the totalitarian Soviet occupation (1940-1990) theater became even more popular as its directors dared to subtly criticize the government (the ephemeral nature of performances made them harder to censor than other media). That role was however lost after independence was restored (1990). It took a decade before theater found its new role and regained popularity locally.
Lithuanian media is surviving an upheaval these days as a newspaper after a newspaper closes, dailies become weeklies and the audiences grow older. The main remaining dailies are "Lietuvos rytas" (leftist, anti-religious), "Vakaro žinios" (tabloid, conservative) and "Lietuvos žinios" (center).
At the same time, the share of internet news portals expands, despite them being notorious for liberal attitudes towards countless insulting comments under nearly every article (some psychologists even claim this became a new Lithuanian way to vent off anger). Main portals are delfi.lt (leftist), lrytas.lt (leftist, anti-religious), alfa.lt (centre-left) and balsas.lt (centre-right).
Magazines are doing better than newspapers. Veidas (conservative, laissez-faire) is the longest-running weekly of political insights. Most female-oriented monthly magazines are catch-all while male-oriented ones tend to have particular topics (automobiles, fishing, etc.).
TV has been hit less by internetization. Still, while the average viewing times change little TVs are no longer considered a necessity as some 40% of young people opt not to own a TV set and some take pride in this, associating television with cheap programming of the commercial stations (TV3 and LNK are two catch-all market leaders and both have many smaller specific-audience channels). State-owned LRT TV station provides less glitzy programs and is more popular among the old.
Radio is mostly used for music (especially while driving) by the youth while in other contexts a turned-on-yet-unwatched TV effectively serves as a radio.
TV stations are all national (Vilnius-based) and while important regional and local newspapers do exist Lithuania may be too small a country to have a strong regional media.
English, Russian and Polish media in Lithuania
Main internet portals own scaled-down English versions to cater for expatriate community and also there is The Baltic Times newspaper (joint with Latvia and Estonia). Major foreign media reports on key Lithuanian issues but lacking representatives and knowledge in the Baltics they usually base their articles on local media.
If you are interested only in the most important news and analysis, Truelithuania.com news section provides that.
Russian and Polish media are more widespread. Polish one is largely limited to the Polish minority in southeastern Lithuania (Znad Willi radio, Kurjer Willenskij daily). Russian media, on the other hand, is also enjoyed by some non-Russian people who grew up under the Soviet occupation and speaks Russian at near-native levels.
The aficionados claim Russian TV shows to be of higher budget and thus higher quality. Opponents have been quick to note anti-Lithuanian programming of some Russian TV stations. Both primarily apply to production created in Russia itself (which has a popularity far outweighing anything created by the local Russian minority).
History of Lithuanian media
The crisis of Lithuanian media goes further than print/internet divide. Back in 1990-2004 libertarian Lithuania media used to be the Fourth Estate in the strictest sense. Every opinion poll indicated that media was the most trusted institution (surpassing the church, army, and all the government agencies). Journalists seemed to be chivalrous "fighters for truth" and some even sacrificed their lives for it (Vitas Lingys was murdered for his articles on the mafia, his name still printed on every back-cover of Respublika newspaper he worked for). In the corrupt atmosphere of the era, only a fear of publicity could have prompted judges, prosecutors, and politicians to refuse mafia bribes.
Later, however, media grew increasingly partisan while several business groups consolidated their control over large numbers of newspapers, TV and radio stations as well as internet portals. Advertisement packages are now commonly believed to include media silence on the advertiser's wrongdoings. Confidence in media plummeted after people noticed one-sided coverage of some events (but still more trust it than distrust it according to opinion polls).
Whatever the current situation would be it is still lightyears in front of the Soviet occupation era (1940-1990) when the media was all nationalized and heavily censored. Crimes and disasters used to remain unreported to promote the "nothing bad happens in the Soviet Union" thought (even the Chernobyl disaster was initially hidden from the public, precluding anti-radiation precautions). Word of mouth thus used to be the "media" most people would rely on, in addition to ephemeral illegal press.