Lithuanian Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas on His Work and Campaign to End Sexuality-Based Discrimination
The blessing regarding the (mostly) guys who make indie films is that knowing their work provides a cool one-percenter feeling of being one of the elite relatively few who are in on the awesomeness; the curse is that the appeal of these labors of love and the men who make them elicits righteous indignation that the studio systems prevents them from making widely distributed films that have the integrity to which every director and writer should aspire. This particularly is true regarding young lion Lithuanian auteur Romas Zabarauskas.
The (reviewed) semi-autobiographical Zabarauskas film "You Can't Escape Lithuania" discusses the extent to which this triple threat producer/director/writer will go to get his vision in front of audiences. The reel-life Zabarauskas refers to the real incident of his sire offering a nude photo of himself as a crowd funding premium to make a movie. One cannot imagine Affleck and Damon issuing similar "junk" bonds if faced with a lack of funds for "Good Will Hunting."
On top of this, Zabarauskas uses both the media of film and the exposure (no pun intended) that his movies provide to further his cause of shedding light on the government-supported rampant discrimination against homosexuals in Lithuania. This is particularly so in the (also reviewed) superb 2011 film "Porno Melodrama," which is light on the former and moderately heavy on the latter.
Logistical considerations required conducting a recent interview with Zabarauskas over email. The American tradition of doing everything in a half-assed manner requires mostly just pasting the submitted questions and received answers below with minor editing.
1. You “escaped” the repressive culture in Lithuania to attend film schools in Paris and New York; why did you go back?
Think global, act local. As a filmmaker, I need to work with the context I know best, and at least for now it's the Lithuanian one.
It's also not a selfless choice. I feel happy by meaningfully contributing to positive changes here. And despite many challenges, LGBT+ community and culture is getting stronger and more colourful here in Lithuania. It's exciting to be part of it.
2. Can you provide any sense of challenges related to dating a more reticent man in such an oppressive culture considering your activism, your films, and posing for widely circulated nude photos?
My boyfriend accepts me for who I am, so it's all fine. And although our culture is indeed oppressive, I consider us both very privileged – we don't face any danger or abuse, we hold hands in the middle of Vilnius and rarely receive any insults for it. As for my "nudes", ya wish – it was only one photo and not widely circulated, simply sent for the backers of my last film to make the crowdfunding campaign more fun and eye-catching.
3. Your films address the above; to what extent are they auto-biographical?
It would spoil my secrets if I'd tell you which things are real and which aren't. Some of the craziest things in You Can't Escape Lithuania are true, I can tell you this much... And the shooting of this film indeed became surreal when reality and fiction started to mix. But perhaps that's a subject of another movie to make.
4. Your films indicate that your parents strongly support your art; has that enthusiasm waned regarding the controversial and explicit nature of your films?
No, my family stays truly supportive. But do you really think my films are that controversial? Rather tame I would say, by today's standards. At the same time, it's hard for me to imagine a film without some sexual exploration. Filming other people's feelings, thoughts, intimate moments – that's somewhat erotic in itself.
5. Speaking of which, have you had any concrete sense of your films (especially “Porno” and “Escape”) impacting reform in Lithuania?
I don't consider my films educational or trying to make a straightforward point for tolerance and equality. But they certainly did contribute [to] promoting LGBT+ visibility and culture in Lithuania. Otherwise, I take credit for pushing some famous people to voice their support for the LGBT+ equality, and others – to come out. I do some social initiatives aside from my movies which might have contributed to changing attitudes more directly. For example, a year ago I published a book "Lithuania Comes Out: 99 LGBT+ Stories". That was truly groundbreaking – never before there were so many Lithuanians coming out so openly, and from such different backgrounds.
6. Do you think that a fear of being outed prevents gay politicians in Lithuania from being more supportive of reform?
Might be! I think that in general most of our politicians are either truly backwards, or pretending to be – in order to be elected. Not much hope here, but it will still change for the better sometime in the future.
7. As a citizen of a repressive country, what do you consider the purpose of Pride? Is it to too show that there are many mainstream gay men and lesbian women who simply want equality and mean straight people no harm or is it an excuse for hairless 18 year-olds to roller skate only wearing Speedos and overweight hairy middle-aged men to parade in dresses?
Well, I see nothing wrong in people expressing themselves in different ways! For me, the purpose of Pride is to commemorate [the] Stonewall Riots and continue the global campaign for LGBT+ equality. We need to remember our history and keep writing it further.
8. What are you working on, and what does your future hold?
I'm currently working on my upcoming film The Lawyer. It will only be ready in 2019, so there is not much I can share with you now, but if you're curious – follow our page on Facebook and be the first to know!
As the above responses demonstrate, Zabarauskas is a bright and committed guy who is committed to the cause and providing inspiration and a voice for his repressed brother. One can be sure that he will be an influence if the Lithuanian government fully joins most of the world in the 21st century.
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