From Minsk to Vilnius With a Hero

If you ever want to make another cold war movie, we got the location for you. And a protagonist, a hero from the real world. More authentic than Tom Hanks.

Yes, he IS a hero, Uldis Cekulis, the Latvian producer, whose newest production ”Liberation Day” will premiere in Amsterdam at the IDFA festival. As you can see from the photo the musical documentary with avantgarde group Laibach has a reference to North Korea. More about that film later, when we get closer to the premiere.

Back to Cekulis who was driving his car from Riga to Vilnius on the 27th of October, from Vilnius to Minsk on the 28th of October, from Minsk to Vilnius on the 29th of October and from Vilnius to Riga on the 30th of October. Apart from the last journey of 3-4 hours, I was sitting next to him, i.e. for approximately 14 hours. In between the driving Cekulis made an excellent case study in Minsk on ”Ukrainian Sheriffs” and gave advice to the young Belorussian filmmakers and students at the two day workshop.

The title of this post is ”from Minsk to Vilnius” = from outside the

EU to inside the EU = visa is needed and there is a border to cross. So here is the cold war story anno 2016:

Two Danes were with the driving producer: director of Danish Cultural Institute Simon Drewsen Holmberg, who invited me and Cekulis to conduct the workshop with him. (See post below). Which we did and were happy with the result, when we left sunny Minsk late afternoon on the 29th of October hoping that the crossing would be as easy as it had been the morning before.

It was NOT! It took 4 hours. First we passed a 3 kilometer long queue of trucks waiting to get to the border – fine so the queue for cars will not be that long, we thought. Again, wrong, it was long, very looong.

So there we were at the John le Carré border setting, early evening, dark, with patrolling uniforms and dogs the closer we got to the small booth where the passport should be controlled. As the only of the three of us speaking Russian Cekulis had to do the whole work to and get papers, fill them in, open for luggage check. There was plenty of time for these procedures.

How to spend that time? Again the hero had an idea. He took his mac-computer and showed us a one hour documentary plus visual clips from productions he and his Riga-based company vfs has done for art exhibitions, for a car-free day in Riga, for promotion of a new restaurant etc. etc.

MOVIES in A MOVING CAR. Maybe better MOVIE CAR… MOVIE CAFÈ CAR maybe even better as the Danes had the privilige to take a sip once in a while from the Belorussian balsam that Cekulis had bought, plus some chocolate biscuits. It all helped to survive the tristesse of sitting in a car just waiting for another 20 metres of driving, and then another 20 metres and then… Europe 2016…

I have known the hero Cekulis for many many years. He is a positive man, who is always looking at the bright side of life. But here in the darkness at the border control, HE almost lost control. Two Russian women from the car behind ours overtook us at the queue and Cekulis told them what he thought of that in many Russian sentences. I could see from his face that the sentences were not kind. ”So bad behaviour”, he told us that he had told them, ”they are like animals these Russians”…

2 hours at the Belorussian side, 2 hours on the Lithuanian side… and then full speed direction Vilnius, where good friend, filmmaker Arunas Matelis had been waiting us to have dinner together. We asked him to go home. He did after having secured that the receptionist at our hotel had found some restaurants that could serve the Danes a steak after midnight, I don’t remember what Cekulis got but a well-deserved beer and a couple of vodkas…

Good quality restaurant and a tv-show with Taylor Swift, a pop star I had never heard about, cat-walking in different underwear clothes… after quite an experience.  

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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