ABOUT THE FILM
DEEP IN THE FORESTS of a region of Lithuania known as the "Land of Songs," five charming grandmothers are the bearers of their village's ancient folk singing tradition. Singing has nourished their lifelong friendships, and helped them to cope with decades of war and occupation. As the village's youth move away, the grandmothers struggle to keep their songs alive.
Land of Songs is a feature documentary film, serving as a poetic record of the grandmothers' oral tradition.
LAND OF SONGS is the first film by brother-sister filmmaking team Aldona and Julian Watts. Growing up in San Francisco, California, their mother raised them with an appreciation for their Lithuanian roots. As children she shuffled them, sometimes against their will (see photo at right), to dance classes and gatherings organized by the local Lithuanian-American community. She applied for their dual citizenship when they were teenagers, and in 2004, they became Lithuanian citizens.
That summer, they visited friends in a region of Lithuania called Dainava, or “The Land of Songs.” To acquaint them with the oral tradition that gives the area its name, their friends brought in the experts: the local village grandmothers. Aldona was delighted by their sprightly humor and toughness, and moved by their haunting, beautiful songs. They reminded her of her own Lithuanian grandmother, "Bobutė," who had recently passed away.
Aldona grew up spellbound by Bobutė's stories, about her childhood in Lithuania, and the horrific war that tore it apart, forcing her to flee her beloved homeland. As the years passed, Aldona planned to eventually record Bobutė's stories. But in 2004, Bobutė passed away
suddenly, before she ever got the chance.
Aldona's grief and regret were still fresh when she met the singing grandmothers that night in the Land of Songs. Listening to their songs and stories, she felt she had been given another chance. She made a promise then and there to return one day, and record them.
In the fall of 2011, Aldona learned that all but five of the grandmothers had passed away. She knew it was now or never. Julian joined her, and with no filmmaking experience, they channelled their DIY instincts, assembled a crew of skilled and gracious friends, and raised funds via Kickstarter. By summer 2012, they were back in the village to make good on Aldona's promise.
Aldona Watts, Director/Producer
Aldona Watts is a multimedia storyteller working in New York and San Francisco. "Land of Songs" will be her debut feature documentary film. It was selected for IFP's 2014 Spotlight on Documentaries Film Forum at Independent Film Week in New York, and is fiscally sponsored by San Francisco Film Society. Aldona is an organizer at Her Girl Friday, a Brooklyn-based group that produces events for women in journalism and nonfiction storytelling. She hosted and produced a weekly radio show about punk music and culture that broadcasted in New York on WNYU FM and in Vilnius, Lithuania on Start FM. She has written and produced audio documentaries, directed youth programs in broadcast media, and managed a youth radio station in Queens, New York. She graduated from New York University with an Interdisciplinary B.A. in Gender Studies, Art, and Media Studies.
Julian Watts, Cinematographer/Producer
Julian Watts is an artist whose work spans film, music composition, sculpture, painting and furniture design. His work has shown in New York and throughout the West Coast, and is represented by Campfire Gallery in San Francisco. He is currently composing an original score for an upcoming short film, and has spent the last two years shooting and producing "Land of Songs" alongside his sister Aldona Watts. He is based in San Francisco, where he was born and raised.
NICHOLAS BERGER, EDITOR
Nicholas Berger has directed and edited award-winning documentary shorts, including “Nutkin’s Last Stand,” which played at IDFA, Silverdocs, and Palm Springs (among other festivals), aired on PBS, was nominated for a Student Academy Award, and was selected for Dave Eggers’ DVD magazine “Wholphin.” As an undergraduate he attended Brown University, where he received a B.A. in Philosophy. After graduating, he spent two years working on documentaries for PBS and the History Channel. He then attended Stanford University’s Documentary Film program where he received an M.F.A. Berger was born in San Francisco and has lived in San Diego, New York and Berlin.
SUPPORT LAND OF SONGS
“Land of Songs” is a 100% independent project, supported during the production phase by more than 165 backers on Kickstarter, individual donations, and the Cultural Department of the Vilnius City Municipality. Now we are raising post-production funds to complete the film. We are fiscally sponsored by San Francisco Film Society (a 501(c)3 charity), and all donations are tax-deductible.