to be announced
DEC 7 - STANFORD UNIVERSITY BALTIC FILM SERIES
OCT 23 - MARGARET MEAD FILM FESTIVAL
OCT 16 - AMERICAN FOLKLORE SOCIETY ANNUAL MEETING
AUG 29 - MENUO JUODARAGIS FESTIVAL
MAR 28 - VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
MAR 25 - VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
MAR 22 - VILNIUS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
ABOUT THE FILM
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.
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 no filmmaking experience, they harnessed their DIY backgrounds, assembled a crew of skilled and gracious 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 heritage - and to the universal language of folk music.
Land of Songs had its World Premiere at the Vilnius International Film Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania (March, 2015) and its U.S. Premiere with the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (October 2015), where it was awarded the Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award Honorable Mention. Its West Coast Premiere will be at Stanford University's Baltic Film Series in Stanford, California on December 7th (screening info here). Land of Songs was selected for Independent Filmmaker Project's 2014 Spotlight on Documentaries at Film Week in New York and is fiscally sponsored by San Francisco Film Society.
Aldona Watts, Director
Aldona Watts is a filmmaker working in the Bay Area and New York. She grew up in San Francisco and draws inspiration from its rich history and wild coastlines. She is interested in subjects relating to gender, music, and the intersections of traditional and counterculture. "Land of Songs" is her first film. Aldona is an organizer at Her Girl Friday, a Brooklyn-based group that produces events by and 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, as well as from an undisclosed location in the Netherlands. She has produced audio documentaries about issues relating to gender, culture, and society in Lithuania, 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 / CO-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.