Watching You Can’t Escape Lithuania is an experience that is indeed inescapable. So much so that by the time it’s over, you can come up with your own theories as to what the title means. “In one way, people feel that they cannot escape their background or their education.” says director Romas Zabarauskas. “In another way it’s rephrasing of ‘You can’t escape your destiny.’” It also manages to be memorable thanks to the story of how the movie got made.
Zabarauskas created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film and created a video on his crowdfunding page where he promised those who would donate €50 or more that they would receive a nude photo of himself. Within a month, he raised around €20,000.
“It was a PR stunt, obviously, but it was made to attract attention.” Zabarauskas points out. “Also, I thought it was interesting because it links back to the subject of the film itself which is narcissism and self-obsession.”
The story depicts a fictional version of Zabarauskas who goes on the run with both his actress friend Indre (Irina Lavrinovic) who killed her mother and his Mexican lover Carlos (Adrian Escobar) to take Indre out of Lithuania. As events take an unexpected turn, their secrets, memories and emotions make this journey wilder than any film Romas could have imagined. A pretty simplistic storyline but one that transcends from being a road movie to a psychological chiller that shows how avant garde storytelling can be too cutting edge.
Within the constraints of his small budget, Zabarauskas is able to compile distinctive filmmaking aesthetics. For instance, during the opening scene where Indre is confessing that she killed her mother, the camera continuously focuses on her face and as she tells her story, her face gets more panicked and we start to get the idea of the event that occurs before she confirms it. Right from there is when the plot becomes set in motion and the film becomes an 80’s throwback thanks to its retro title and synthesized musical score.
It was also Zabarauskas’ intention to depict a film centering around a queer character that isn’t about coming out or about tragedy yet still has a main character that is an anti-hero in order to deviate from traditional norms in queer cinema.
“If we talk about LGBT+ characters in the media, there is growing pressure that they would be positive characters and that they would educate the viewers. But I think it’s sometimes a trap also,” Zabarauskas argues. “Because I didn’t think art should work as education all the time. It’s just one side of art but in another way, art should provoke and should break the boundaries.”
Zabarauskas goes on to say, “It’s not a stereotypical story about someone suffering directly from homophobia or being poor and thrown out of their house. These stories are important to tell. But there are different stories also.”
He also wanted to make a political queer film that takes place in a country that is discriminatory towards gay people. In Lithuania, there are laws prohibiting same-sex marriage and partnerships and there’s strict legislation towards the trans community, preventing them from identifying with their desired sex. But artists like Zabarauskas are determined to rebel against this discrimination by crafting films, books, plays, music, that pertain to the queer experience. In fact, Zabarauskas pointed out how Lithuanian cinema has been making strides in the U.S. For example, the film Summer of Sangaile won the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was Lithuania’s selection for Best Foreign Language Film.
Despite making one of the few LGBTQ+ films from Lithuania, Zabarauskas’ work is far from done. For his next project, which he is keeping under wraps, he’s aiming to get funding in a traditional way to get a slightly bigger budget but he’s hopeful about using crowdfunding once more.
“Crowdfunding is an exciting option and I think we will do it in any way to build a community and to be in touch with people because that’s really fun to do.” says Zabarauskas. “But of course, I’m a bit scared because the stakes are high and I don’t know what more can I offer at this time.”
He might not use the same crowdfunding campaign as before. But regardless, here’s hoping that his distinctive and vital voice becomes, dare I say, inescapable in the near future.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Romas Zabarauskas