Mindaugas Survila: The Ancient Woods

Thursday was a beautiful evening for the Lithuanian director Mindaugas Survila, who celebrated his world premiere at IDFA with a full hall in the Munt Cinema 9. He was there with his wife, as was the editor Danielius Kokanauskis, who also worked with Survila on his first documentary “Field of Magic” (http://www.filmkommentaren.dk/blog/blogpost/768/). An editor in strong demand by Lithuanian directors, but difficult to get hold of as he is working permanently for Sergei Loznitsa, who is almost constantly in production.

This second film of Survila, “The Ancient Woods”, could also easily have included the word magic. Or maybe better magnificent as the experience was for the viewer with this visit to some woods of Lithuania, that are still full of nature’s wonders. There is no narration in the film – contrary to what is normal in nature films – the director, as he said, does not want to point at what we as viewers should see and think. 

The introducer of the screening, a senior programmer from IDFA, was proud to welcome the film and said how he had made associations to the human world, when watching the behaviour of the animals, who have conversations or fight or carress each other – the survival of the fittest, in an adventurous

journey into a world so unknown to us humans. This is not “our” place, the film says gently, having a short scene with a slightly confused old man, who makes his way out of the forest – and the film. This is not our world, stay away, let it have the beauty it has, as so skillfully shown in the film, that took Mindaugas Survila 8 years to make, the first four years were preparation, the last four years shooting, often waiting for the right moment for days or weeks. With specially built equipment, special lenses, and the director himself at the camera helped by other cameramen.

The film is built up in small dramatic scenes and the sound plays a significant role. It’s amazing to listen to the animals, when they sing or cry or express their happiness and frustration. Communication! If you look carefully, the movements in the sequences are clearly going from up to down, from small animals to bigger, with superb sceneries like the ones, where the deer come to eat the sugar beets that the farmer has chopped for them. Or the scene where the owl flies to the tree, spread out its wings and lands to feed the small ones in the tree still unable to take off on their own.

The film is unique in content and cinematography and IDFA deserves a Bravo for taking it into the program, that otherwise mostly includes social and political documentaries. The classical IDFA profile. This is a film that everyone will enjoy to watch – in a cinema. A drama, an adventure with sceneries like the Dutch landscape painters have made, as you can see in the museums in this city, where the sun – thank you – shines this morning. 

Lithuania, 2017, 83 mins. 

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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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