"Land of Songs" had its World Premiere at the 2015 Vilnius International Film Festival in the production's home country of Lithuania. The premiere screening was a sold-out event featuring live performances by the characters in the film, and a guest performance by one of Lithuania's most celebrated musicians and folk music historians, Veronika Povilionienė.  



In 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. 

oUR story

LAND OF SONGS is the first film by brother-sister filmmaking team Aldona and Julian Watts. Their Lithuanian-American mother raised them in San Francisco, California with an appreciation for their roots. As children she shuffled them, often against their will, to gatherings organized by the local Lithuanian-American community. They grew up listening to the stories of their Lithuanian grandmother, "Bobute." Aldona in particular was transfixed by Bobute's vivid accounts of her childhood in Lithuania, and her harrowing experiences during World War II. She planned to record her grandmother's oral history, but before she got the chance, Bobute suddenly passed away.

The summer after Bobute died, the family visited friends in a small village in the region of Lithuania called Dainava, or “Land of Songs.” To acquaint them with the oral tradition for which the area is named, their friends brought in the local experts: a sprightly group of twelve village grandmas. Aldona was charmed by their lively spirits, and moved by their haunting songs. She could see that singing kept the grandmas young at heart, and was the thread binding their lifelong friendships. It was also clear that the songs served as a record of their village's tragic history, and a means of coping with the traumatic memories of their lives - as it had been for generations of women before them. They reminded her of Bobute, and she felt she had been given another chance. She promised the grandmas that she would return and make a film about them. They were just as thrilled about the prospect as she was, if not a little surprised - their own grandchildren weren't interested in their songs, and here was this odd American teenager who couldn't get enough.

The years passed and life happened, but Aldona never forgot her promise. In 2011 she discovered that all but five of the grandmas had already passed away, and she knew it was now or never. Julian joined her, and with minimal filmmaking experience, they harnessed their DIY backgrounds, assembled a crew of skilled friends, and raised funds. By summer 2012, they were back in the village to make a film. The result is a tender, poetic record of the lives of five incredible women, and a testament to the universal language of folk music.



“These songs are the most essential part of the Lithuanian soul.”
— Jonas Mekas
“It is impossible not to fall in love with these beautiful characters, portrayed with tenderness and love.”
— Audrius Stonys
“A deeply sensitive portrait of rural Lithuanian life.”
— Zita Kelmickaitė, LRT with Zita Kelmickaitė with Zita Kelmickaitė

Interview with Zita Kelmickaite on "Ryto Suktinis," Lithuanian National Television. (Interview starts at 13:00). 

Interview with Zita Kelmickaite on "Ryto Suktinis," Lithuanian National Television. (Interview starts at 13:00).


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 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 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.



LAND OF SONGS is a 100% independent project, funded by more than 165 backers on Kickstarter, the Vilnius Municipality Cultural Department, and private donations via our fiscal sponsor San Francisco Film Society (a 501(c)3 charity). All donations are tax-deductible. 



landofsongsfilm [at] gmail [dot] com

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