The cancellation of the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival wasn’t only a massive blow for the film lovers but even more so for the organizers and filmmakers. However, thanks to the amazing film festival, we were still able to check out “The Lawyer”, the visually stunning, unique and honest movie from writer/director Romas Zabarauskas and to interview the director himself. Read the review of “The Lawyer” here and check out our interview.
Liselotte Vanophem: Hey Romas, how are you doing?
Romas Zabarauskas: I’m fine, despite the circumstances.
LV: Congratulations on your wonderful film. Where did the story for “The Lawyer” come from?
RZ: Well, first of all, I’m an outsider when it comes to the refugee crisis and so is the main character, Marius. In addition to being a filmmaker, I’m also an activist in Lithuania and I always think about how I can contribute to making things a little bit better. In the process of making this film, I started to cooperate with the Lithuania Red Cross and do something to help to get money for the refugees in Lithuania. That has always been my mindset.
There was also a personal starting point in this movie as I suffered a personal loss as well. My father died four years ago which was a sad time for me. When grieving, you have time to think about things and one thing I realized is that I was still privileged in the way that I was getting support from friends, family and society during that difficult time. It also made me realize that refugees who come to the country in the hope of getting a better life don’t get the support they need from their family members or friends. Most of them lost their family and friends in the war. I delved into that and during the research, I became inspired by actual factional stories and points of view.
LV: Is helping refugees and standing up for them also the reason why you became an activist?
RZ: Becoming an activist started when I was working on my debut short movie called “Porno Melodrama”, that a short film about gay men and which was showed at the Berlin Film Festival in 2011. Because of the film, I got a lot of attention in both Berlin and in Lithuania, which is my home country. I decided to come out as a gay person during the premiere of that movie and at that time, not a lot of people in Lithuania came out as gay. I became this gay celebrity overnight and did a lot of interviews, in which I shared a lot of my personal experiences. Then I was invited to many television shows to talk about what it was like being gay and to talk about gay rights. I considered myself very privileged to be able to do that. I grew up in a supportive family but not everyone did. By doing the interviews, I was able to give back to society and to do what I can to make it better and easier for others to come out.
As an activist, I started a few initiatives such as a book called “Lithuania Comes Out: 99 LGBT+ Stories”. It’s quite self-explanatory as it involves 99 LGBT+ people telling their stories and whose photos also feature in the book. I interviewed them and wrote those interviews down from the first-person point of view. That was quite ground-breaking. From then on, a lot more people came out in Lithuania and I’m very happy about that. I continued to do that but I don’t see myself as an activist. I see it as a privilege that I can do that and I think that everyone should do what they can. It can be a small thing or a bigger one and I’m just doing what I can.
LV: How did the people who you worked with on your book react when you approached then?
RZ: Some people already came out as gay but there were also quite a lot of people who made their coming-out in this book. I think they felt encouraged in a way as they did it together with other people. I’m very happy that people entrusted me with those stories and I think a lot of people shared their experiences after that. They and their stories were very positive. Now, we are living in a more open society but there are still difficulties such as the lack of laws for LGBTQ+ people.
LV: The leading actors in this movie do have an amazing chemistry. How did you find them?
RZ: Eimutis Kvosciauskas, who plays Marius, is a very famous Lithuanian actor. He mostly stars in the theatre and a few commercial comedies. This is a very unusual role for him. I saw a few shows with him but I wasn’t sure if he would be good for this role because he only had experience in comedy and just a little bit in drama. When we met for a casting, he did so well. It was a very important role for him for both his personal life and his career and we’re very happy to have been part of that. We hope that we can share this movie with the audience soon.
The other actor, Dogac Yildiz, was an actor I found via an online casting website. We shared a few pages of the script on that website and we received more than thirty videotapes from actors attempting to play the role. I was very humbled by the fact that all those actors believed in our project and tried to be part of it. Dogac was great and after that we had a Skype call to do another casting session. I wanted to be sure that before shooting, that the actors had great chemistry. That’s why I decided to do a chemistry test. We flew Dogac to Lithuania and we did a scene with the two actors. They were great together.
LV: Throughout the film, we see a lot of artwork and photographs. How did you come along those?
RZ: Well, the photographs were made especially for the movie. The photographer who did most of the photos for the book also shot the photographs for this film and she’s called Arcana Femina. We have an ongoing collaboration with her and she’s very active in the Lithuanian LGBTQ+ community as well. For me, it’s always interesting to try to include many art forms and creative people in a film. Making a movie is a very collaborative thing to do.
LV: In this movie, the two lead characters meet in an online chatroom. Do you think that gay people still have fewer possibilities to meet each other than straight people?
RZ: Yeah, I think so. I think straight people can meet each other everywhere. It’s assumed that most of the people are straight. However, in my circle of family and friends, I do have two couples who met each other online and now they’re married. I think online dating became part of life these days.
LV: What was the hardest part of making this movie?
RZ: The first thing that now comes to mind, is that we should have had the premiere in London but that sadly didn’t happen. I worked on this movie for four years. From writing to developing it and to postproduction. It took such much time and effort to make it. We were looking forward to the premiere at BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival so much and then sadly, it didn’t happen. If we will look back on this in a few months now, it will indeed have been the most difficult experience because it was so unusual for a filmmaker.
LV: Is there a way we can watch the film already? Online or are you going to wait until this is all over and to put it on the big screen?
RZ: Not now but there will be a way soon. We have a sales agency and some distribution deals are being made and so I do think that the film will be able to find its audience. I certainly believe it has the potential to reach many people out there.
LV: You’ve already made some short films and longer ones. Where did your passion for film come from?
RZ: There’s no crazy story involved in this. I do remember that when I was a teenager I went to the library and I saw a lot of queer movies that inspired me in terms of my own life. That motivated me to inspire others.
LV: At the beginning of this movie, the characters talk about art and body sculptures. Apart from film, what’s your favourite kind of artform?
RZ: I like the theatre as it’s a little bit similar to movies. In Lithuania, the theatre scene is quite strong. In Lithuania, the live theatre scene is quite strong. For that reason, my movies have a strong theatrical element.
LV: Do you already have other films you’re working on?
RZ: Yes, I’m developing a new film which will also be around the queer topic. Sadly, I can’t talk about it too much. Again, we would like to thank the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival for actually giving “The Lawyer” a chance to be screened via their press library and we’re still very proud to be a part of the festival. It seems that people connected with this movie. This kind of feedback will help us to find an audience for “The Lawyer” and to make this film available for everyone.