Pioneers: Lithuanian Documentaries Directed by Women

The “Pioneers: Lithuanian Documentaries Directed by Women” program of the Media Education and Research Center Meno Avilys presents three newly restored documentaries created by female directors: Antanina Pavlova, Diana and Kornelijus Matuzevičius, and Janina Lapinskaitė. The films of the program, curated by Dr. Lina Kaminskaitė, unfold by developing original themes, distinct documentary genres, and different aesthetic means. Pavlova’s observational documentary, The Birth of a Character (1967), captures the everyday life of kindergarten children. A Local (2000) by Matuzevičius explores the hybrid identity of a Klaipėda region resident, Hilda Spalvienė. Lapinskaitė’s Venus with a Cat (1997) offers three portraits of sitters in which different life experiences and bodies transpire. This program aims to draw attention to little-known films of the first female filmmakers in Lithuania.

Dr. Lina Kaminskaitė is a film and culture historian, audiovisual media researcher, Associate Professor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater, and the Head of the Department of Art History and Theory. In Meno Avilys, she curates archival film programs and initiates film studies, including the national digitization of audiovisual heritage, the project, and an inquiry into gender equality in the Lithuanian film industry. Kaminskaitė is the co-author and editor of three books: Episodes for the Last Film: Director Almantas Grikevičius (with Dr. Aurimas Švedas, 2012), Cinema in Soviet Lithuania: System, Films, Directors (with Dr. Anna Mikonis-Railienė, 2015), and In Focus: Women in the Lithuanian Film (with Dr. Natalija Arlauskaitė, 2022).

Program trailer


The Birth of a Character

Director: Antanina Pavlova
Cinematography: Z. Putilovas
Lithuanian SSR, 1967, 10 min.

Early in the morning, the children start their journey to kindergarten, hand-in-hand with their parents. There is no shortage of activities for the little ones here – under the supervision of the kindergarten staff, they play sports, have health checks, dance, sing and play, and lunch and bedtime are not forgotten. Despite the common activities and the abundance of children in the frame, the different characters and interests of the children are slowly becoming apparent – from the closed-minded sensitives, to the company souls and the naughty ones who don’t want to go to bed, from those who are fascinated by medicine to those who are interested in the hairdressing trade. They are all individuals, and each one of them is observed by a silent camera. 

A Local

Directors: Diana ir Kornelijus Matuzevičiai
Cinematography: Kornelijus Matuzevičius
Editing: Vida Misiūnienė
Sound: Viktoras Juzonis
Lithuania, 2001, 26 min.

Hilda Spalviene, a resident of Šakininkai village, is a German from Klaipėda region. The cheerful old woman, who draws a cigarette with a mouthpiece, recalls her life: before the war she lived in Germany with her husband, after the war she was exiled to Siberia. Later, she was able to go back to Germany, but she returned to Šakininkai – to the land of her parents. Although the film focuses on Hilda’s story, it also subtly invites us to consider the issues of multiethnicity and national identity of the inhabitants of Klaipėda Region. Hilda, who speaks with an accent, stubbornly calls herself a local: she was born here and is ready to spend her last days here.

Virginija Diana Matuzevičienė

Virginija Diana Matuzevičienė (b. 1948) is a Lithuanian film director. From 1963 until 1964, she attended Juozas Miltinis drama studio in Panevėžys. Matuzevičienė also studied ceramics at Kaunas Stepas Žukas Technical School of Fine Arts (1967-1968). From 1984 until 1985, she studied directing at the Leningrad Institute of Theater, Music, and Cinematography. Matuzevičienė worked at the Lithuanian Film Studio as the director’s assistant in divisions of feature films, science popularization films, and documentary films. (1969-2003). Since 1990, she has been making documentary films with her husband, Kornelijus Matuzevičius.

Kornelijus Matuzevičius

Kornelijus Matuzevičius (b. 1944) is a Lithuanian film director and cinematographer. From 1963 until 1970, he studied at the Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Matuzevičius worked at the Lithuanian Film Studio as an assistant cinematographer (1962-1963) and documentary cinematographer (1970-1989, mainly with director Henrik Šablevičius). Since 1990, he has been a documentary film director and cinematographer, making films with Diana Matuzevičius. Since 2001, Matuzevičius has worked as a lecturer at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater. He has created about 70 documentary films, which mainly deal with existential problems and narrate unconventional destinies of people.

Venus with a Cat

Director: Janina Lapinskaitė
Lithuania, 1997, 24 min.

Nadia, Teresė and Ramutė are the three heroines of this documentary. Although they are very different, they are united by their unusual work – for decades they have been making a living by posing for artists. For Janina Lapinskaite, it is not the exotic profession that is important, but the stories that have marked these women’s bodies over time. The heroines of the film talk openly about their choice of work, their colourful, albeit difficult past, and their equally difficult present – they bare not only their bodies, but also their souls to the camera.

Janina Lapinskaitė

Janina Lapinskaitė (b. 1953) is a Lithuanian film director, actress, screenwriter, and educator. In 1975, she graduated from the Lithuanian Conservatory as a director. From 1975 until 1994, Lapinskaitė worked as a director at the Lithuanian Television. Since 1995, she has been a lecturer at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater. Lapinskaitė has worked as the head of its Film and Television Department since 2002 and as an associate professor since 2007. Lapinskaitė’s television and cinema films are mainly based on her own scripts. Her film characters are people on the so-called fringes of society – hermits and eccentrics – whose extraordinary lives are emphasized by the contrast between theme and style and a unique angle. Lapinskaitė’s films are characterized by a combination of poeticity and realism. In 2004, she was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas.

This program is a part of the digitized and restored Lithuanian audiovisual heritage project, carried out by Meno Avilys.

Curated by Dr. Lina Kaminskaitė / Meno Avilys
Coordinated by Gerda Paliušytė
Image restored by Jonas Zagorskas
Sound restored by Vytis Puronas
Information partner: LRT
Financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture

The digitization and restoration of the program’s films were implemented in cooperation with the Lithuanian Central State Archive and the Lithuanian National Radio and Television.