A Surface for Western Entertainment



Lina Kruopyte

And, action! The camera pans over a strictly geometrical pedestrian alley, space- age children’s playgrounds, and symmetrical, monotonous block houses. There’s a certain grainy sheen to the scene, a quality colorization job with the subtly saturated yellows, signature HBO. The air is that of an idyllic and utopian Soviet residential-district chic and it lives up to the moodboard beyond expectations. We’re in Pripyat, Ukraine, on an early morning in April 1986, and the news about the nuclear catastrophe has just hit. The surprisingly orderly and calm comrades in true to life polyester get-ups are obediently boarding the evacuation fleet. And, cut! We’re in Fabijoniskės, a so-called sleeping district in northern Vilnius. The Lithuanian extras with high cheekbones are free for the day and the color temperature of the scene is back to its usual blueish-gray. 40 000 people live here, most of them commuting to their real jobs in downtown Vilnius. In the days of shooting Chernobyl, however, their commute is greatly interrupted.

Fabijoniškės district is just one example of a larger trend. Film and TV production crews from around the world have been discovering Lithuania as a great shooting location. Diverse architecture in the capital Vilnius – marked by layers of history rich with occupations – has stood in for Imperial Russia, 1930’s Germany, Jack the Ripper’s London, mid-century Tokyo, and even contemporary Malmö of Sweden. Next to the versatile urban environments and architecture, foreign producers are also drawn to Lithuania for its evocative landscapes: ancient forests, rolling sand dunes, freshwater lakes, and historical sites that can facilitate backdrops for a wide range of stories. Besides the locations suitable for different geographies and periods, Lithuania offers highly professional production crews with a famously good attitude and an unbeatable work ethic. And, there are tax incentives. The country grants a 30-percent tax credit at a minimum spend of just 43,000 euros.

Independent from the Soviet occupation since 1990 and an EU member since 2004, Lithuania quite voluntarily assimilates “westernness” and strives to establish itself as Europe’s Hollywood. However, unlike Los Angeles, Vilnius rarely plays itself.

Lithuanian cinema and its tradition are gradually being replaced with way more lucrative foreign productions. Sites charged with (quite unconsolidated) memory are becoming a rental commodity in the shape of mere backdrops. Further, the people who carry that memory are reduced to extras in someone else’s narrative – a situation with an uncanny, familiar cling to it.

‘’From the Eastern-Western battles over memory, we see how the ‘new’, post- transitional version of history triumphed over the real memories of the place or even the people who used to live and work there’’.[1]

What historical and geopolitical processes paved the way for this development, and what can one make of it in political terms? Is it “adaptation” – a healthy, non- neurotic well-adjustedness to the times one lives in? Even a case of emancipation? Or a residue of internalized colonialism, enabled by long-term exposure?

[1] Agata Pyzik, Poor but Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West (Winchester: Zero Books, 2014), 70.