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Young Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas has decided to go naked for his new work You Can’t Escape Lithuania – to raise funds, awareness and eyebrows… he chats to FilmDoo about the state of Baltic cinema, LGBT moviemaking and growing up gay in Vilnius.

Tell us about yourself and the type of work that you do.

My first professional debut short film, and one of the first Lithuanian gay films, was Porno Melodrama, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Section, 2011). It tells the story of two guys living together and wanting to leave homophobic Lithuania, for which one of them ends up accepting to perform in a porn film with his ex girlfriend. When the film came out in Lithuania, I came out publicly as a gay man too. This created great exposure for me, so I became a public speaker on LGBT issues.

Later on, when I decided to study in New York, I thought of taking that as an opportunity to make a film between the U.S.A. and Lithuania. That’s how I came up with my debut feature We Will Riot (2013), which is kind of a reversed story of what I experienced. In this film I wanted to show the exciting side of Lithuania, but I also wanted to speak about homophobia, racism, and nationalism – which are, I think, the raising issues in Europe.

What’s it like to be gay in Lithuania?

Well, I have a very supportive family and very supportive friends. Besides, I live in a capital city, and like in many other big urban capitals, homophobia is not felt that much. However, I’m still really worried abouth the rest of the country though. We have laws surprisingly similar to the infamous anti-gay laws in Russia. On the other hand, I feel that is also getting better. Especially with the media, with more and more celebrities coming out and endorsing LBGT rights.

Romas' debut film, 'We Will Riot', screening at the Bushwick Film Festival, New York.
Romas’ debut film, ‘We Will Riot’ (‘Streikas’), screening at the Bushwick Film Festival, New York.

What has changed for you since We Will Riot? And what have you learnt from it?

After its premiere, I experienced a lot of different reactions – from very negative to utterly positive. We Will Riot was such an ambitious project physically and geographically. I’m still impressed that we pulled it off. It was very, very complicated. Shooting in two different countries, actors flying from one country to another, loads of extras… The list is endless. It was my debut feature but we didn’t make it the easy way (laughs). I have learnt a lot from this film and I’m very happy we did it. My next film is equally ambitious but in a different, more dynamic way – it is very personal to me and I also want to experiment. It’s called You Can’t Escape Lithuania and I am raising money for it at the moment.

How are you raising money for this new project?

(Laughs) So… I had this idea of going naked for my film. It’s a kickstarter project, and basically… If we raise $20000, I will send a signed picture of me, naked, to everyone who donated more than $50.

The Kickstarter page for 'You Can't Escape Lithuania'
The Kickstarter page for ‘You Can’t Escape Lithuania’

That’s brilliant! What’s concept/statement behind this idea?

I would be taking myself too seriously if I said it was a statement. It’s a cheeky publicity stunt, obviously. If there is anything behind it, it is simply the confirmation that it’s a tough time for the indie film industry, and you have to sell what you have. Although I can see how it can be interpreted in different ways.

I think we should be free to do crazy things. Most of the times, when we’re fighting for equal rights we accommodate far too much. We try to be more acceptable and normal to the society that already discriminates us. In those cases I think the fight is lost from the very beginning. We should be able to be fun, crazy and foolish, but still have equal rights.

Have you received any reactions regarding your Kickstarter project yet?

Well, we only started a few days ago and we already have so many responses. I even feel a little overwhelmed. It’s going quite viral, and there are people who are actually donating money. We raised over $7000 in less than a week. I think that’s great.

At the same time, some of the comments are negative, but I was prepared for that.

Whether it is negatively or positively, people are talking about you and your work. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?

No, I am just looking for money. I don’t want people to talk about me. I just need the money for the film. I would be lying if I said I am happy about these negative responses, but I just don’t care about it. I am used to those types of comments. I grew up gay in Lithuania! Sticks and stones…

The cast of 'You Can't Escape Lithuania': Denisas Kolomyckis, Irina Lavrinovic, Andrés Cedillo, Vaidas Baumila
The cast of ‘You Can’t Escape Lithuania’: Denisas Kolomyckis, Irina Lavrinovic, Andrés Cedillo, Vaidas Baumila

What can you tell us about You Can’t Escape Lithuania so far? What is it about?

You Can’t Escape Lithuania is about a fictional version of me, a gay filmmaker from Lithuania, who is helping a friend to escape the country after she murders her mother and steals her money. He also takes his Mexican boyfriend along for the crazy ride, in which this guy, Romas Zabarauskas, ends up giving his friend an ultimatum: he will only help her if she accepts to perform in his new experimental film. It’s a madcap journey where we question things like representation and its limits. It’s a queer road movie inspired by Fassbinder, Douglas Sirk and Dostoyevsky. As you can see, it’s a mix of very different influences and it’s going to be a very fun ride.

As a filmmaker, what do you think about FilmDoo and about what we are trying to do?

I think it’s a really great idea. I have actually gotten a bit disappointed with other online film platforms. Some of them don’t keep you informed. One platform removed the link to my film without telling me. For a long time I kept on referencing a link that didn’t link to anything at all. So yeah, I am very happy with FilmDoo, and I wish you the best of luck!

As interviewed for FilmDoo

Watch We Will Riot on FilmDoo

Check out Zabarauskas’ fundraising campaign on Kickstarter here

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