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Wings of Lituanika

Lituanikos sparnai
Director: Robertas Verba

Lithuania, 1983, 20 min., documentary

The film is dedicated to Steponas Darius’ and Stasys Girėnas’ historical flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Verba created this film during the 50th anniversary of the flight. Wings of Lituanika is a look at the nation’s attitude towards the symbol of wings. Every Lithuanian knows the story of Darius and Girėnas, but what does it really mean? What message is embedded in this achievement? An old newsreel shows Darius and Girėnas smiling and waving from the ‘Lituanika’ airplane. 50 years later, tears still strangle the words of Darius’ widow. The nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the heroic deed, while Mrs. Darius wishes that the men hadn’t taken off at all. The nation sings the famous national song ‘Here flies the falcon’, but the widow hears only the second line, ‘Hurt its wings against a dry pine’. Several frames later we find ourselves among the firs of Soldin where the plane crashed, and meet the widow in the black Kaunas city airport.

Following the newsreels of undisturbed lucidity where Darius and Girėnas are still preparing for the flight, Verba inserts monologues of old intellectuals who still remember the flight as a part of their lives and try to guess the reasons behind the tragedy. The verdict is passed by the narrator citing the joke of the contemporary journalists: ‘The funeral will cost us more that a good plane would have.’

The second half of the Wings of Lituaniaka is more monumental. The viewer is hit by a striking contrast: the faded, yellow past is replaced with a colourful present - except that there are no people here. A musical commentary is comprised of two songs by the famous Lithuanian songwriter and singer Vytautas Kernagis. Here, they sound too straightforward and remind us more of the narration that underpins the message of the film. Meanwhile, the real narration and the voice of the narrator are selected to create the impression of a newsreel.

In this perfected part of the film, Robertas Verba invents a feeling of a happy ending by showing the pilots’ torn clothes, their ‘staring’ caps and the crashed aircraft forming a background to monuments and speeches about sacrifice. And of course, there is the symbol of devastated wings. At the end of the film, Darius and Girėnas once again board the ‘Lituanika’ - the fragments of which we have just seen - and leave the frame waving their hands, reminding us that funeral costs more. No additional comments are needed here.

The noise of rising wings is understood as the faith of the filmmaker in his nation, as one that will not submit to resignation.

Robertas Verba says: ‘The funeral of Darius and Girėnas perhaps became the peak of our patriotism. Not the flight itself, which people did not believe in and offered little help for. The pilots were treated as beggars asking money for a useless scheme and as gamblers involved in a shady affair… Of course, the fact that they made the flight was important, but the tragedy escalated the issue to a patriotic and nationalist level. People asked themselves, ‘How come? Why do we ourselves not do anything of that sort?’

Their deaths made the pilots national heroes. That day was made the day of unity of the Lithuanian nation to remind us that we, the Lithuanians, have to be alert and help each other at all times... And we can see the results. Do we really help each other today? No, we don’t.

However, I was interested in the fact itself. How they took off. And the reasons behind the crash are still not clear. I believe that history will reveal more facts in time.’

Cinematographer Stasys Griškevičius says: ‘It was very difficult to make the Wings of Lituanika. The issue was very delicate and we were under control all the time. The government was trying to prevent us from filming anything illegal. We had to change things all the time. I think Žalakevičius was the deputy head of the committee at that time. He watched the film and said: ‘Moscow will not like it. We need an interview with a cosmonaut about the flight and the pilots.’ So we went to Moscow and obtained permissions to film in the Star City. One of the cosmonauts, Beregovoy, agreed to give this interview. We told him the story we were trying to make and explained what we wanted from him. So he starts speaking about the flight and how Darius and Girėnas were approaching Vilnius. And we say: ‘Stop! They were not approaching Vilnius. They were approaching Kaunas and didn’t even make it there.’ Beregovoy could not understand what the deal with those two cities was and what we wanted from him, at all. The material did not make it into the film anyway. Obviously, it was a foreign body there.’

© Rūta Oginskaitė

* Text from www.lfc.lt
* Pictures from the funds of Lithuanian theatre, music and film museum

Section: One hundred Springtimes. Tribute to Vytautas Kernagis

Screenplay: Laima Pangonytė, Robertas Verba

Dir. of Photography: Stasys Griškevičius