Credit: Human Rights Film Festival

A Modern Soviet Lithuania

Credit: Human Rights Film Festival

Credit: Human Rights Film Festival

Billie Armstrong

Document: Human Rights Film Festival explores Soviet Russia in its screening of When We Talk About the KGB

When We Talk About the KGB is a retrospective look at the lives of young freedom fighters, KGB officers and spies during the Soviet regime in Lithuania. Through juxtaposing voices and images we gain a sense of the confused tension that pervaded every aspect of life under Soviet rule, and the sense of loss of collective identity in Lithuania.

The accounts given in this documentary are personal and authentic: decades on, these men are no longer tied to a cause, they are simply remembering and explaining the oppression and the inhumanity that occurred in everyday life under Soviet rule. One man’s wife has to piece together his story with her own memories as he struggles to remember his 7 years as a Soviet prisoner, while another points to the allure of the KGB when he remembers: “there was a romantic alternative…the KGB.”

The silences in the documentary are striking: in the absence of a narrator, each statement is met with flickering, noiseless images of both contemporary and Soviet Lithuania. This format is more evocative in the sense that we are left to directly connect with the images and voices ourselves: we identify with these men’s experiences of surveillance culture the most during a scene where we see a modern day tour of an ex-Soviet prison taking place, in which the tourists’ casual use of their camera phones provides another lens for us to view the prison through. Through this interwoven footage of Soviet and Modern Lithuania, the film seems to call for a connection to be made between the two; a modern acknowledgement and acceptance of Lithuania’s past.

When We Talk About the KGB was selected to be part of Glasgow’s fourteenth annual Document: Human Rights Film Festival this year. Document aims to create an alternative space for the blossoming of socially engaged, progressive filmmaking which challenges the dominant, conservative media forms and messages. David Archibald, Head of Film and TV Studies here at the University of Glasgow, Chairs the board of the festival and said of this year’s programme: “Document, this year particularly looked at the poetics of Documentary. Taking into account the aestheticized, poetic documentary as well as the “rough and ready” socialised film. We wanted to interrogate the unspoken practices and ethos of how cinema and media portray events concerning Human Rights and contemporary issues.” This type of merging of cultural and social activism is a really exciting way for people to connect and challenge issues. Document provides valuable links between the University of Glasgow and the Human Rights community, for example the Applied Research Collaborative Studentship award is a research project which allows students to work with organisations such as GRAMnet (Glasgow Refugees Asylum and Migration Network) to contribute to the growth of the festival.

For more information about Document Human Rights Film Festival visit:


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