A Documentary project in Brooklyn, NY by Aldona Watts
Hello and Sveiki!
My name is Aldona. I'm a Lithuanian-American multimedia producer from San Francisco, living and working in Brooklyn. This project has been a dream of mine for so long now that I'm thrilled to finally make it happen!
It all began seven years ago. My family and I visited Lithuanian friends in the village of Puvočiai, and they invited their neighbors, the močiutės (or "little grandmas"), over to sing for us. These močiutės, they told us, were the last generation in a long line of traditional folk singers with ancient roots.
At twilight we laid tables under the trees with food and drink. I barely noticed the faint sound of voices weaving through the forest, until they mounted to a loud front of song. And then I saw them: a small herd of hunched figures making their way towards us, their white headscarves bobbing through the trees.
The songs were at once melancholy and joyful; the hauntingly beautiful harmonies seemed from another world. After each song, the women's wrinkled faces cracked into wide smiles, and the ghostly echo of the voices ringing through the trees was replaced by raucous cackling.
When it was time to say goodbye, the močiutės left as they came, singing all the way. Long after they disappeared, their voices remained.
At the time, my own beloved grandmother had recently passed away. She had been a master storyteller, and I was raised on her tales of survival as a teen fleeing war-torn Lithuania. My pain at losing her was compounded by the realization that I had also lost her stories. I felt I hadn't done enough to carry on the oral tradition of my own family, and I wished that I had recorded her, when I had the chance.
So when I saw the močiutės sing that night, I resolved to one day make a feature documentary film about them. After seven years, and with a little help, I will finally be able to do this.
The Land Of Songs
Puvočiai is nestled deep in the forests of a region called Dainava or "The Land of Songs," known for its rich tradition of folk singing called the daina. Ranging from the deeply personal to the profoundly political, the many-layered dainos are woven with the memories of the souls who have lived and died in these same forests for millennia.
Remnants of the ancient pagan past remain intact in many of the dainos, and great pains were taken to preserve them throughout modern history, even as Lithuania was pummelled by wave upon wave of war and occupation. Today, many of the younger generations are leaving the villages to seek work in the cities and abroad. In Puvočiai, for the first time in history, there is no one to carry on the oral tradition of the daina.
Stasė Boguienė (b. 1935), is an outspoken and vivacious ringleader.
Marytė Klimavičienė (b. 1942) has a tough demeanor and a great wit.
Pranė Barysienė (b. 1929) is soft-spoken with a sweet nature.
Jonė ("Jonukė") Dvareckienė (b. 1931), the tiniest of the bunch, is nonetheless the strongest voice and often leads the others in song.
Marytė Bingelienė (b. 1931) has missed recent performances and gatherings due to serious health problems.
These five women are the last living members of a group that once numbered twelve friends and family. They started singing as girls, to lighten their load while mushroom-hunting in the forests. They sang at festivities, and they sang to remember the stories of their mothers and grandmothers. Perhaps most importantly, their "siren songs" perked the ears of young men in neighboring villages. When war and repeated occupations left half the village burned to the ground, the women sang to rally their strength and ease their pain. An entire history of a nation in turmoil is chronicled in their dainos.
The objective of this film is not only to preserve the precious dainos of the močiutės - transcriptions and recordings can be found in archives throughout the country. Land Of Songs will be unique in that it will show the dainos as living, breathing stories, deeply rooted in their natural surroundings, daily routines, and rich histories. Shot in an observational style, Land Of Songs will be multilayered and poetic, like the dainos themselves.
We plan to shoot next month and finish the film this fall.
Director / Producer / Cinematographer: Aldona Watts
Producer / Production Sound Mixer: Julian Watts
Producer: Matthew Shorr
Sound Design: Aldona Watts in collaboration with Kyle Keays Hagerman
Land Of Songs is a true labor of love, and its success relies on friends, collaborators, and community members who are willing to help out in any way they can. I am keeping the budget as tight as possible, but I know that the story I have to tell is priceless. I also know that it has to be told now, before it's too late.
How Kickstarter works: You can make a commitment to contribute, and you will not be charged until the deadline. If the goal is not met by the deadline, you will not be charged at all. It's all or nothing.
Any and all funds raised will go towards production costs: video and audio equipment, travel expenses, compensating the local crew, Kickstarter fees, and Amazon processing fees.
You can also help by simply spreading the word about Land Of Songs!