Small Cinemas conference explores national identity and on-location shooting

Currently underway in Valletta, the Small Cinemas conference deals with film production in ‘smaller’ cinema markets like Malta

The conference revolves around the broad phenomenon of on-location shooting
The conference revolves around the broad phenomenon of on-location shooting

National identity was at the forefront of the discussion during this morning’s session of the Small Cinemas conference – an international symposium on film taking place in Malta for the first time this year.

Subtitled ‘The Fabric of Culture, Myth & Identity in Small Cinema’, the conference revolves around the broad phenomenon of on-location shooting, but is interested in examining this cinematic concept through the lens of “smallness”.

Featuring a selection of local and international speakers from various areas – including film scholarship, film production and with a special focus on architecture courtesy of a collaboration with Architecture Project – this sixth edition of the conference concludes its three-day run at Blitz, Valletta today.

Opening with a focus on Lithuanian and Moldovan cinema, this morning’s session was organised under the banner of ‘Illuminating Nation’, as speakers Renata Stonyte and Dr Lenuta Giukin delved into the dynamics of nationalism, propaganda and collective memory in Lithuanian and Moldovan cinema, respectively.

Renata Stonyte – a PhD student at the University of Vilnius, Lithuania with an interest in political cinema – focused on the successful Lithuanian documentary The Invisible Front (2014) to illustrate how a key historical episode from Lithuanian history was made ‘marketable’ to international markets.

Directed by Jonas Ohman and Vincas Sruoginis, The Invisible Front focuses on the titular anti-Soviet resistance force that persisted from the early 40s down to the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

By presenting the story of the resistance fighters in a universally palatable light, Stonyte suggest that the film is notable for breaking out of the typical cycle of Lithuanian cinema, which tend to be marketed primarily to the domestic market. Crucially, the film’s marketing was also targeted towards the substantial Lithuanian diaspora, currently found in America and elsewhere.

In fact, not only was the film made with the explicit purpose to ‘sell’ the resistance story to international audiences, it was also partly made possible through crowdfunding – specifically, the popular American platform Kickstarter. In this way, Stonyte suggests that The Invisible Front is an example of how the contemporary digital realm – both through funding services like Kickstarter and the various viewing platforms made available online – can serve as a way to dissolve previously monolithic national boundaries.

In her talk, ‘Moldovan Soviet Cinema: Creating Otherness’, Dr Lenuta Giukin described how a reconsideration of early Moldovan cinema reveals how the Soviet Union’s propaganda tools gradually quashed out indigenous Moldovan culture and language. Focusing on the key Moldovan film The Last Month of Autumn by Vadim Derbenev – whose ostensibly simple narrative sees a wistful farmer take the trip from rural Moldovia to its modern, Soviet counterpart to visit his four sons – Giukin described how the film serves as a ‘window display’ for Soviet Moldovia, depicting it as industrious and sleek when compared to its ‘backward’ rural counterpart.

Giukin goes on to explain how the Soviet propaganda drive went on to cancel out all aspects of indigenous Moldovian life from cultural representation – replacing both language and physical characteristics with Russian equivalents: in these films, everyone speaks Russian, and everyone has “blonde hair and blue eyes” – not too common in Moldovia.

The conference will conclude this evening with a ‘Long Table’ discussion. Incorporated into this edition of Small Cinemas by organizer Charlie Cauchi, the aptly named Long Table feature will invite the public to participate in a discussion about the state of the Maltese film industry.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Cauchi described the Long Table – conceived by artist Lois Weaver and inspired by Marleen Gorris’ film Antonia’s Line – is a flexible and democratic approach to the roundtable discussion, one that should serve as an appropriate send-off to this year’s edition of the Small Cinemas conference.

“I’ve seen this method used successfully in a variety of situations, with different types of audiences to discuss so many issues (Bangladeshi identity; feminism; sex and aging). And the Maltese love a good chat, right?

“Everyone is invited to participate and we all bring something different to the table. Also, our visiting speakers, many of whom are either from other small nations or specialise in small national cinema, will certainly be able to broaden the discussion,” Cauchi said.

For more information on the conference, log on to

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