The hero of We Will Riot is Romas Zabarauskas
"As Lithuania went through huge political changes and a deep economic crisis, the Lithuanian movie industry’s silence was deafening. They made films about Stalin’s oppression and dead composers and people having sex in a coma."

So what just happened?

A couple of years ago, a very young filmmaker asked me to help him promote his debut short film, which was a protest against new homophobic laws in Lithuania. The parliament had decided to ban propaganda “harmful to minors” (meaning - anything depicting gayness as normal), and one impressive young man decided to respond by coming out in public and making the first Lithuanian gay film. In your face! That’s exactly what filmmakers are supposed to do. Films have always been powerful propaganda tools, and a great way to get your message out to the world. As Lenin said - "Cinema, for us, is the most important of the arts."
When I see someone like Romas, so young, in Lithuania, determined and active, politically conscious and passionate, I want to help. Not many young Lithuanians are like Romas Zabarauskas. You have to be strong to be so publicly gay in Lithuania. You have to be brave and intelligent to go on live TV and defend yourself against radical fundamental Christians and neo-nazis.
Since coming out, the amount of hate thrown at Romas is horrific. It’s hard for me to believe that I live in a country where thousands of people would spend their time writing death threats on the internet about a young film director. I have been to Afghanistan, and I expect the reaction there would be similar to the reaction here, if Romas Zabarauskas made a film in Kabul.
So after being told a hundred thousand times that he is a disgusting pervert who made a shitty debut short film (which, of course, most people didn’t even watch), what did Romas Zabarauskas do next? Take everybody’s advice and quit? Emigrate? Commit tragic suicide? Of course not. He made full-length feature, called We Will Riot.
Romas Zabarauskas sat down and started writing his script, but this time not only tackling homophobia. This time, in the biggest filmmaking “fuck you” of Lithuanian history, he threw in racism and political corruption and nationalism and economics as well. Later he would be criticised for attempting to tackle too much in one movie, but it’s hardly his fault that Lithuania’s ridiculous politicians gave him so much material, and it’s not his fault that he’s the only guy daring to make these kinds of films. The Lithuanian film industry left Romas to tackle the entire government on his own, at 21 years old.

Having sex in a coma

As Lithuania went through huge political changes and a deep economic crisis, the Lithuanian movie industry’s silence was deafening. They made films about Stalin’s oppression and dead composers and people having sex in a coma. Having sex in a coma is probably the best analogy for what “creative” Lithuanians have been doing recently, sometimes even getting state money to do it.
Whereas Tadas Blinda, a soppy romantic swashbuckling fairytale period drama remake about a legendary national hero, received two million taxpayer Litas (more than half a million euros) to make the safest movie of all time, Romas Zabarauskas was rejected by the Ministry of Culture for being risky. It’s not surprising that the state didn’t want to give this young inexperienced director a bunch of money to criticise the state, but that’s the whole point. They gave a romantic patriotic heterosexual film 2 million Litas, and after considering Romas’ controversial proposal, they gave him nothing. Romas kept going. He got $10,000 from Kickstarter and started to make the movie anyway. Bravo!
I don’t think the state should support ANY films, and Lithuania is a perfect example if you want to see how much taxpayers’ money can be wasted on useless art. But I also think it’s important to note that one film got 2 million, and Romas got nothing until post production when they threw him 25,000Lt as a token gesture.
The makers of Tadas Blinda dissed the We Will Riot trailer, and also tried to claim that they were some kind of new wave of Lithuanian cinema and didn’t need public money. They proved this by making a cheap film about heterosexual sex in hilarious situations. Wow.

Facing slings and arrows

In this landscape, a 21-year-old boy, famous across the country as “that faggot”, sat down to write a script. As viewers found out later, it wasn’t the best script in the entire world. All it contained was all the most important issues for young Lithuanian people today, it raised arguments that grown adults and politicians are scared to talk about, gained support from some of the most famous Lithuanian artists, including the godfather Jonas Mekas, and attracted the attention of everybody who read about it, creating debate after debate on the internet and mobilising young people to go see a film that finally discusses something important. That’s all.
Long before the film was released, hundreds of criminally offensive comments were thrown at Romas every time he appeared in the press. He kept going. He couldn’t find a producer, so he decided to produce it himself, increasing his workload massively. He kept going. The main cinema chain in Lithuania rejected the film. He kept going. The state chose to “finance” the premiere in Moscow by giving Romas enough money to buy half a sandwich. Romas kept going. We found a very cool label in the UK (Slime Recordings) to release the soundtrack and pay for the mastering, but nobody had money for promoting the music or the film, so we just facebooked all night and day instead. Romas kept going. Eventually he found two restaurants, Zoe’s and Soul Box, whose foreign owners personally donated to the film and organised supporting events in their venues. Romas kept going.
Using his own iPhone and laptop, Romas Zabarauskas wrote, produced, distributed and publicised his own movie, caught the attention of the whole industry and half the country, while everyone who could help improve the film said “no”. He kept going. He gave me my first ever job on a movie, and trusted me completely. He gave young musicians, some as young as 16, their first release on a proper UK label (as promised in the alternate reality of the movie), and gave them exposure alongside some of Lithuania's finest musicians. We created unarguably the best soundtrack in the history of Lithuanian film, so innovative there isn't even a category for it in the Lithuanian film awards. Romas gave dozens of young people their first opportunity to work on a film set. He boosted the CVs of the next generation of Lithuanian film industry workers. The average age of the crew was near-zero, and still he managed to organise them, train them, and actually finish the movie. I am simply amazed. The hero of We Will Riot is Romas Zabarauskas.

Vilnius is too cool

Of course, there are some people who don’t care about all that, and that's OK. They think a film is a film. They prefer a satisfyting violent/romantic conclusion, a dramatic curve with all their questions answered, so they can leave the cinema in peace and get on with their lives. They won't like anything unless it's perfect. They want Oscar-winning performances from all involved. As I might say in Lithuanian, “Ne į tą filmą atėjote”.
Some of those disappointed viewers (to whom we say thankyou deeply for buying a ticket) are pointing out continuity errors or weak dialogue. Really? Are you so boring that you watch films and look out for continuity errors? Did you not even notice the first gay kiss in Lithuanian cinema, projected on huge screens as parliament debates another five homophobic laws?
Some people watch a ground-breaking political film made by the Future of Lithuania, and all they can say is something about the actors’ east-european accents or “there was that scene where the sun was up but it should have been night time”. Apparently they didn’t even notice how beautiful the sun was in that scene, captured on real 16mm film, shining through an interracial kiss that would scare the shit out of half the pensioners in the country. It was an educational statement which Romas managed to get shown repeatedly on national television in the run-up to the premiere.
You never partied while the sun came up? Sad story, bro.
You never partied while the sun came up? Sad story, bro.
And what have the haters done today for Lithuania? Spotted a continuity error? Disliked some dialogue? Written a blog?
There are thousands of these people on the internet.
There are thousands of these people on the internet.

A film you'll skip classes for

I am not young any more. I have been in Lithuania for nearly ten years now, and I often comment on social issues, and people often criticise me. I have been called a faggot, a KGB/Mossad/MI6 agent, a communist, a nazi, a cause of Armageddon, and Anonymous have attacked my website and published my personal contact information along with accusations of pedophilia. Seriously. But nothing I have done comes close to what Romas has done in the last 2 years for his country and his countrymen. It was hard enough for me to make the soundtrack, but Romas made EVERYTHING.
Lovers and haters - you can criticise the plot all you want, we're not stopping you, really, we can hear you. Thanks. You can compare it to films that cost literally millions of dollars more, “in an international context”, even though you always tell me not to compare Lithuania to the UK. OK. That's all very interesting to discuss. But you're doing what the government wants you to do, you're criticising Romas instead of the politicians who constantly mess with your life.

To riot, or not to riot, that is the question

And now, about those kids and their need to riot or not to riot? The film didn’t have a happy ending, and that annoyed some people, so I want to end this article positively. In between time spent deleting hate on facebook (“the film is shit, you’re a nazi, respect my opinion, international context” etc) me and Romas toured around the country showing the film to real people outside the capital city.
The reaction in real life was amazing. The film’s target audience is young enough and optimistic enough to understand that the film is calling them to action, calling them to build their community instead of destroying it, calling them to pay attention to politics and criticise their leaders, calling them to accept their sexuality and the sexuality of those around them, calling them to respect their neighbours regardless of skin colour. That’s awesome! These kids are fresh and ambitious. So inspire.
After the screenings, seeing them thank Romas and shake his hand made me smile a big smile, and it certainly gave me confidence in the future of Lithuania. At least I can have confidence that the next generation are not all a bunch of lazy, jaded hipsters.
Kidz r cool. Romas has started to call the film’s supporters PatRIOTs, and I hope the film will inspire them to do something for their country instead of just watching something happen to it.

PatRIOTai! You are our only hope!

Lithuania is going through an epic battle of the generations, and some of the kids totally get it. Young people are starting to realise that they can win, they just need to stop being negative, stop fighting amongst themselves, start taking things into their own hands even if the older generation says “no”, and start working hard for the future. And that was the whole point of the movie. The ending is up to you.

Q&A with Mark Splinter in Kaunas on Friday

We Will Riot is opening in Kaunas on Friday with a Q&A with me, Mark Splinter. You are welcome to see it with your own eyes, share your opinions with love, and i will answer any questions you have about the position of the sun in the sky or whatever it is that you are passionate about. See you there, PatRIOTai!
IN CINEMAS ALL OVER LITHUANIA:

If you would like to support this project and make a big difference to Lithuania, you can still see the movie on the big screen all over the country:

Vilnius Skalvija from 2013-10-14
Panevėžys Garsas
Marijampolė Spindulys
Šiauliai Atlantis
BEST FILM SOUNDTRACK EVER
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Ir visose parduotuvėse internete.
Mark Splinter, Vilnius, 2013
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