Documenting the lives of contemporary Baltic poets

Mar 6, 2018

Viktorija Jonkutė, recipient of the 2017 Baumanis grant award, describes her documentary film Closer to the Land beyond the River, which will premier on May 22.

Closer to the Land beyond the River (Lith. Arčiau žemės anapus upės, La. Tuvāk zemei viņpus upes) is a full feature documentary film, revealing the connections of the lives and creative works of two talented, famous contemporary Baltic poets: the Lithuanian Vladas Braziūnas and the Latvian Knuts Skujenieks.

I have been connected with Lithuania all my life. The sense of community undefined by words is the most important thing” – K. Skujenieks, from the collection of poems Iʼve Visited Far (La. Es pabiju tālos ciemos, 2004). The recipient of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas and laureate of many other international awards, Skujeniekshas spent his childhood near the Latvian-Lithuanian border, savoring the memory of the Skujenieks family during the years of the First World War in Lithuania. V. Braziūnas – another child of Lithuanian-Latvian border, translator of K. Skujenieks’ poetry, the winner of the Baltic Assembly Prize, as well as many other awards. These two talents, children of the Lithuanian-Latvian border and riversides, grew up in close proximity to one another, meeting in the border territory and becoming friends through the world of poetry.

The idea for the movie came in 2008 when I was in the beginning days of my Baltic studies. That Spring, there was an opening of the Latvian Study Cabinet at Vilnius University, were I met both of the poets for the first time. That made quite a strong impression on me. I remember writing letters and small articles about them for local regional newspapers, later reading their poetry and from time to time having a chance to see them at cultural events as a Baltic duet in Lithuania. It took over 9 years, and now at the end of my Baltic studies and having worked on two documentary films with the burgeoning director Ernestas Samsonas, I came back to this idea once again. With the support of Ernestas and V. Braziūnas, I was encouraged to pursue this idea fully. We are happy to be working with professional photographer and sound director Sigitas Kondratas, operator Laurynas Lukoševičius, composer from North Carolina, USA Kyle Raub, editor Elvina Nevardauskaitė and many others who joined our small, but ambitious team. The Baumanis Grant by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies motivated our creative energy even further. It allowed us to make the main production work of the movie and to acquire some crucial archived material. Thanks to the AABS, we are now on track to reach our production goals and are already able to plan the premiere of the movie on 22 May, 2018 in the international poetry festival “Poezijos pavasaris” (The Spring of Poetry).

At first glance, the story of our movie can be seen more as a regional, local one, but the life stories and creative works of our main characters broaden its impact and serve as mediators to creating the Baltic regional, historical and cultural narrative. This essential development unites the Lithuanian and Latvian people and reveals how close the ties between them can be. As the story unfolds, you will be surprised to learn how small, border Lithuanian villages historically fostered a much wider and intense commonality between Lithuanian and Latvian cultures. K. Skujenieks and V. Braziūnas are examples of true panbaltists, representing a common Baltic identity and memory, and creating a network of both living and passed Lithuanian and Latvian literary figures, such as Kęstutis Nastopka, Sigitas Geda, Pēters Brūveris, Uldis Bērziņš, and others. It is a bit of a social paradox, but quite often we lack the sense of community with those who are close to us; we don’t know our neighbours well or lose interest. Our film is an invitation to get closer and to see what is on the other side of the river Nemunėlis.

More information can be found on our Facebook page, Arčiau žemės anapus upės/Tuvāk zemei viņpus upes and in the movie’s site