March 25, 2023


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Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas pioneered LGBTQ content

3 min read

Breaking into the world of filmmaking is never an easy prospect.

And when you’re a queer filmmaker who wants to focus on LGBTQ issues and lives in a traditional, Catholic, ex-Soviet Eastern European country, the bar for success is set pretty high.

Romas Zabarauskas’ career proves that tenacity, determination — and, as he puts it, “no bitterness” — can make one’s way onto the international stage.

The 32-year-old producer and director — currently making his first English-language feature, “The Writer,” the second in a trilogy of films examining same-sex relationships — says being in the public spotlight as a queer filmmaker is a “complicated issue.”

“In Lithuania, the reality of my country is complex; On the one hand, here I am engaged to my fiancé Cornelius, but we cannot get married because Lithuania does not recognize same-sex partnerships, but on the other hand, I am here in Berlin for a producer showcase funded by the Lithuanian Film Center,” he said.

His latest film, “The Lawyer,” which tells the story of a gay advocate’s relationship with a Syrian web-cam performer and the first of a planned trilogy, has received public funding in Lithuania.

Zabarauskas said his big break came in 2011 at the Berlinale, when he premiered his first film, a 30-minute short, “Porno Melodrama.” A month later the film had its Lithuanian premiere at the national film festival Kinopavasaris in Vilnius, where he came out as gay.

“There were very few ‘out’ people in Lithuanian then, and I was the subject of a lot of media attention,” he recalls. “I became the poster boy for queer activism in the country. Now Lithuanian society is more open.”

The attention attracted support from public and private funding and crowdfunding, which enabled him to produce his first feature in 2013, “We Will Riot.” Although the main character of the film was straight, there was a strange sub-plot and the film explored themes of otherness.

With another feature under her belt in 2016, “You Can’t Escape Lithuania,” Zabarauskas felt ready to dive deeper into the identity and gender issues that have been a major part of her life and build support for “The Laywer.” ”

“I had to cut a lot of corners and find my own way,” says Zabarauskas, who graduated from film school in Paris. “That’s why I became my own producer, because back then it was difficult to make queer-themed movies and have creative control and communicate the message.”

He added that one can express any bitterness to overcome challenges in private, but it is better not to express it publicly.

The second film in the trilogy, “The Writer,” explores the relationship between two men who move to Lithuania in the 1980s after serving in the Soviet army but eventually drift apart, with one moving to New York. It just finished exterior shooting in Brooklyn. It will be followed by “The Activist,” the story of a man who infiltrates a neo-Nazi group to find his lover’s killer.

Zabarauskas — whose films have screened at more than 30 festivals — says he’s open to expanding his scope beyond a focus on queer stories. “Overall, I’m interested in the theme of how much we like our lives, or cultures and situations.”

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