European Film Awards 2022. Short Talk with Saulius Baradinskas

Saulius Baradinskas is a film director from Vilnius, Lithuania. His debut short film, “Golden Minutes,” (2019) was filmed in one take and on film, with Scottish actor Billy Boyd in the lead role. Baradinskas is also known for directing music videos that have already garnered attention in the Baltics. Indeed, during the 2018 Annual Music Video Awards, he was chosen as Best Director of the Year and won the Best Music Video Award for Directing. That same year, he directed a commercial feature film comedy that ended up being a blockbuster. In 2020, he was a Berlinale Talent and founded “Sapiens Music,” a live-music video channel that showcases up-and-coming artists. He still also directs commercials and music videos.

At this year’s European Film Awards, Tara Karajica talks to Saulius Baradinskas about the short form and his short film, “Techno, Mama,” that premiered in the Orizzonti Short Film Competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival and successfully toured the (short) film festival circuit before being nominated for a European Film Award for Best Short Film. The film, whose main topic is the heartbreaking violence against children, follows teenager Nikita who tries to pursue his “Techno” dream, but the real “Techno” in his life is his abusive mother. “Techno, Mama” is an essay about two Lithuanian generations that didn’t find a way to love each other, a story about children who didn’t have a childhood because their dreams were lost in Post-Soviet urban yards.

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

Saulius Baradinskas: I remember when I was sixteen, my parents wanted me to study Architecture and so, I used to have math classes after school. But I was also a skateboarder and I would skate with my friends and shoot with a camera. My uncle from the US had a camera, so I took it and would shoot with it. There was this amazing twilight in the skate park and I remember I had to go to the math class, but the sky was so beautiful because the sun was shining so vividly. And, I skipped the class. I didn’t tell my parents. And, I made the shot and the shot is in the first film I ever made about skateboarding. I still have it. I think that was the defining moment when I understood that I wanted to frame these beautiful moments in life. Sometimes, I feel like I’m romanticizing and just watching and observing people from the side although I’m very expressive. But I feel that skipping that math class in order to pursue a frame was a defining moment in my becoming a filmmaker because I sacrificed the path to the career I was building – because I’m an architect. I graduated in Architecture. And, the biggest joy of being a filmmaker for me now is working with talented people. I love people. I love working with them. I love to meet talented people. And, this is the art that I want to follow and create with people.

How did Techno, Mama come about?

S.B.: I come from dysfunctional family and I’ve been going to therapy for almost five years. I had an emotionally abusive mother and my father was really amazing. My mother left us when I was six years old and it was a very hard moment. But when I remember all these things, there were also very beautiful memories with my mother. She was also just trying to make ends meet because she was the main breadwinner because my father was jobless and she wanted to have more money, but it also came with a price because she was abusing me as a child. And, I had a very complicated relationship with her. When I was going to therapy, I understood how willing or able I actually was and that I was not the only one, that there are thousands of kids not even in Lithuania, but also in Europe who have abusive parents.  The main thing that really makes me feel pain and sorrow is that every child who comes into this world has to have a right to education and love from his/her parents. And, for me, it’s very painful to understand when it’s your own abuse. So, I wanted to talk about domestic violence and family and I started with myself. Techno, Mama is basically an open film – most of the scenes that I created, I had witnessed it all as a person. The idea for Techno, Mama is just to create a film where two post-Soviet generations meet in Lithuania; they’re both wonderful people, but we didn’t know how to love each other because we are talking two different love languages.

In that sense, as youve said, the film deals with domestic violence against children and that its something that is still a big problem in Lithuania and everywhere. In your director’s statement, you talk about precisely these two different love languages. Can you elaborate on that?

S.B.: I am going to talk about Lithuania. I didn’t research domestic violence, especially emotional violence, but it’s a very common problem in this area. There’s also a lot of physical violence against children and the main problem is that some of the cases are registered but those that are not, there are thousands of them. There is this book by Danutė Gailienė called Ką jie mums padarė: Lietuvos gyvenimas traumų psichologijos žvilgsniu, which means “What They Did to Us.” It’s basically a book about the past three generations in Lithuania and the three occupations of Lithuania. Two of them were Soviet and one was Nazi Germany. When Lithuania became independent, Lithuania just moved on and nobody talked about the emotional impact that the country suffered from over fifty years of occupation: violence and brutal things that happened in the Soviet Union. I could tell you that generations suffered in my family; my uncle was sent to the gulag for twelve years because he was a free person. My father was in Chernobyl, doing all the stuff, because he was in the army. But the problem was that no one started to speak and this book helped me understand the scale of the emotional damage Lithuania and Eastern European countries have suffered from the Soviet occupation. And, many generations will have to cleanse themselves and help each other. So, when I was thinking about the film’s ending, I wanted to ask a simple question: “Where’s that love?” Because, in the end, people come into this world through love. There’s a lot of suffering in the world’s History, but also a lot of love and I just want to ask: “Where’s that love?” So, for me, it’s like an essay, talking about my grandparents and my parents. I’m just the first generation that was free and I wanted to put this dialogue between two generations where they are trying to find the language of love, and it’s a different language. The mother has a different language. It’s an essay about the impact of the emotional damage that my country has suffered. Even a free child has to witness a lot of things although it has nothing to with that.

Do you think that your film will change something for other people and for other children? Was it a healing process for you to make this film?

S.B.: When I was making this film, I was really self-doubting. I was thinking that I’m creating a scam or something like that because from one side it feels like it’s therapy, but when I was in therapy, I understood that I’m not the only one. When I was shooting the film, I had panic attacks because the film is so true. And, sometimes, I would ask myself: “Do I need to make this?” But the most majestic impact that I feel even today is that I receive messages from all over the world, where people say: You’re not the only one. I suffered this by my parents and because of your film, I asked for help.” And, this, for me, is beyond great. People who watch the film find themselves and that they had been rejected, and they ask for help. So, I don’t believe that my short film will change people, but from these messages, I believe that maybe it will help to make the first step towards that first action to say: “No, I don’t want to be like that. I want to run away from this toxic environment.” It’s a very hard question to answer, but from the messages I got, I see that it has had an impact on people.

Can you talk about the title the choice for the title?

S.B.: When I’m thinking about the titles of my films, I’m always thinking about a catchy title. So, the title is “Techno coma Mama,” but it’s also a “techno mama.” I have been to techno parties and I’ve seen it and techno is a very simple beat, very industrial and technical, electronical assets. And, when I was thinking about the title, it captures two ideas of the short film: Nikita’s techno dreams like “Mom, I want to go to techno parties, and I want to go to my father who lives in Berlin.” So it’s like “Techno, Mama.” But the film is about his mother, a “techno mother,” who is abusive because that’s the real techno in his life: violence, cleaning and not having a stable day. So, the name also symbolizes that – the techno mother, the mother who is very cold, very emotionally unavailable, just like techno music. So, these two things are summed up in the name.

What is your opinion on the short form today?

S.B.: I think short films are great cinematic short stories that can tell different worlds, from all over the world. It’s the brains of our decade, of our generation. Short films are amazing forms of cinema, of storytelling. The form is also very strong in each short film; it can be animation, it can be stop-motion, it can even be 3D, it can be a gaming short film, but still have a thematic story…

Who is your inspiration in filmmaking? And, how does your job as an architect inform your filmmaking?

S.B.: My three biggest inspirations, I think, are Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry because these directors go the extra mile to creat worlds, set designs and costumes and they are very vivid and aware. So, for me, as a new director, I feel that I want to also go the extra mile and just not film the real world, but to also put color in this world. When I was making my short film, I made a storyboard, a book where I did all the collages with all the explanations of each scene so that my whole team would know what I’m doing. And, it was really amazing because, as an architect, I first was creating the world of Techno, Mama and then I went to the shoot and it was all done beforehand – all the costumes, all the colors, all the locations where we shot… So, for me, as a director who comes from architecture, I just want to go the extra mile in film composition and colors.

What are your next projects?

S.B.: I’m now working on Betona Musica, a feature film, which is going to be a musical because my background is also as a music video director and it’s West Side Story in Eastern Europe. 

Photo credits: Sebastian Gabsch, European Film Academy.

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