“They couldn’t say the truth and they didn’t want to lie – they just wanted to make films” – a wave of poetic documentary was suddenly born in the occupied Baltic countries, as a response to the suppressive Soviet government. When the cinemas were filled only with propaganda, Baltic filmmakers started inventing a new language only they understood. The paradox is that the new speech was silent. It was a language of long stares, deep sighs and complex metaphors. To stay quiet and create poetry on screen was the only way to get hidden messages to the viewers, so the Soviet censors wouldn’t ban the film. The resulting films all share a very immersive quality, implicating and involving the viewer with the content presented.
The first one was Robertas Verba who is called the father of poetic documentary in Lithuania, “the icebreaker who broke through the ice of Soviet ideology to form the peculiar stylistics of Lithuanian documentary film”. Many filmmakers of his generation continued the aesthetics of poetic and metaphorical filmmaking. The non-narrative style, emotional depth and search for self-identity built a strong base for further exploration of the poetic style.
When some traditions were already settled, time for some transitions came. With the Soviet Union falling down, more filmmakers thought of recording the fragile state of the changing reality. Baltic films opened a new world to Western Europe, which was built on cinema traditions and moral values of the older generation’s directors. The new generation rejected declarativity and immersed themselves into the silent observation of reality. This new movement also brought many awards to the Baltic states, such as the Main prize in the Oberhausen International Film Festival, IDFA public prize, European Film Academy award for the Best Documentary Film. The young creators were noticed and highly appreciated internationally by film critics, professionals. It showed that the unique poetic style of Baltic documentary is valued everywhere, because it is able to capture the depth of life at its core. “Baltic poetic documentary cinema created an independent world, free from soviet ideology, lie and propaganda. It was a declaration of inner freedom. The black and white world of poetic documentary films was full of colours. Sadness was full of joy. And joy was touched by deep existential sadness. These films reminded us about the very core of cinema—to film and to enjoy the beauty of the leaves, moving in the wind.” said the Lithuanian filmmaker Audrius Stonys.
The wave of poetic documentary was not a temporary occurrence – the directors mentioned are still creating today and influencing filmmakers all around the world. Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) Award, main awards in Leipzig, IDFA, ZagrebDox and tens of other prestigious festivals are a proof of the significance and value of the Baltic poetic documentaries. It was and still is a unique phenomenon in all European Cinema.