Martin Blaney talks to the director and producer of Seneca’s Day, winner of the best pitch award at the 2013 Baltic Event.
The Screen International Best Pitch Award at the 2013 Baltic Event in Tallinn went to Lithuanian producer Uljana Kim of Vilnius-based Studio Uljana Kim who was pitching Kristijonas Vildžiūnas’ fourth feature Seneca’s Day (Senekos Diena).
The film is set to be the first ever co-production between the three Baltic states and will be Kim’s fourth collaboration with Vildžiūnas.
The €1.48m drama with Riina Sildos’ Tallinn-based Amrion OÜ and Roberts Vinovskis of Latvian production outfit Locomotive Productions also has France’s Philippe Avril attached as a co-producer via his Strasbourg-based company Unlimited. Development support has already come from the Lithuanian Film Centre and the EU’s MEDIA 2007 Programme.
“I had started working on the project three years ago, but really began writing the script two years ago once I had finished my previous film Back To Your Arms,”Vildžiūnas recalls.
“Seneca’s Day is connected thematically with You Am I which I made in 2006 about a man breaking through the senseless existence of everyday life and searching for a meaning to life,” he continues. “You Am I was a journey to a forest and the construction of a treehouse, while Seneca’s Day is a journey to the past as a man – Simonas - tries to changes his present.”
“There are two time periods – 1989 and 25 years later –, but the story will not be told in flashbacks. We will have two different actors to play the main character and the film will be in three parts,” Vildžiūnas explains. “The first part, a romantic story, is when he is young and experiences his first, unfulfilled love. We will see the end of the Soviet period and the ‘Baltic chain’ demonstration stretching through the three Baltic republics. The Soviet era was dissipating like a bad dream and the future was still unclear.”
“The second part focuses on Lithuania after the economic crisis in our time. The main character is now 40 years old and no longer romantic. On the outside, he is tough, but inside, he’s still afraid of love and life. So, in the third part, we try to unite these plot lines to resolve his situation.”
“I think the film reflects a mood we all experienced in the whole region and people are now getting nostalgic about the uplifting feeling of freedom in advance. Somehow, this was lost or perceived to be lost,” Vildžiūnas adds.
He admits that there are some autobiographical elements in this new project. But a real personal trip down memory lane is being taken with the inclusion of songs from his days playing in an alternative indie rock group North Direction in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“We released a CD album in 1991/2, but have a bunch of unreleased songs from 1987/89,” Vildžiūnas says. “We’ve managed to find all our instruments like a Soviet Polyvox synthesizer from 1983. Now we are trying to recreate those songs, but adapt them slightly for modern ears.”
A graduate of the Lithuanian Film Academy where he studied Film Directing, Vildžiūnas made his feature debut with The Lease which premiered in the Controcorrente competition in Venice in 2002, and followed this in 2006 with You Am I which screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. His third feature Back to Your Arms won eight Lithuanian Film Academy Awards – the Silver Crane – in 2011 and was Lithuania’s Oscar submission that year.
Apart from being the first ever Baltic co-production, Seneca’s Day also sees producer Uljana Kim reunited with the French producer Philippe Avril with whom she had worked together on her first production, The Courtyard (Kiemas) by Valdas Navasaitis, which was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes in 1999.
“Ten years ago, Pandora Film’s Karl Baumgartner [who had co-produced You Am I] had asked me why the Baltic countries were not working together and I couldn’t give him an answer,” Kim recalls.
“The collaboration on this project is creative as well as being financial with the other two Baltic producers. But I think that it is very important to build up a Baltic platform - both for production and promotion.”
Kim’s company was launched in 1997 and has since produced eight feature films and six documentaries. Her most recent production was Ignas Jonynas’ The Gambler which was produced as a co-production with Latvia’s Locomotive Productions. The drama, which was screened in the New Directors section of last year’s San Sebastian Film Festival and the International Discoveries sidebar of the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival, won the Special Jury Award at the 2013 Warsaw Film Festival.
The Baltic Event’s co-production market at the end of November was the first time that Seneca’s Day had been presented to potential financiers, sales agents and TV buyers.
“The Baltic Event was very useful and uplifting because there were a lot of young new production and sales companies here this time. who are enthusiastic and passionate about cinema,” Kim remarks.
Principal photography is planned from mid-July 2014 at locations in Vilnius and in the mountains near Murmansk, Russia, as well as in Estonia’s Tallinn, Pärnu and Ruhno Island. Delivery of the completed film is set for spring 2015.
Funding applications are now being made by the three Baltic co-producers to their respective national funds as well as in France to CNC’s World Cinema Support and Eurimages.