Vytautas Puidokas: The Search of Alexander the Grand
Lets meet Vytautas Puidokas (1988), a young documentary filmmaker from Lithuania, who’s heading on a wild journey to Latin America to capture a full-length documentary film “Alexander the Grand” about Lithuanian-born Aleksandras Bendoraitis (1919-1998), a missionary priest and a doctor who became a local hero of the Amazon forest in Brazil and Bolivia, but later in life was accused of murder.
Vytautas has been working on this project since 2013 and in the autumn of 2015, he and the crew will be heading to Amazon jungle to investigate and capture the story.
For this bizarre story to be heard all around the world and show Vytautas’ passion for the story, we present you an open interview with him.
Check out their crowd-funding page: http://igg.me/at/savehisfilm
The following questions were prepared by four different authors. To make it more clear, we will use the name and country each person is living in.
[Marius, Iceland] Aleksandras Bendoraitis is little known in Lithuania, how did you become interested in him?
I wouldn’t say I had a choice. I was wandering in South America for half a year, when suddenly I stepped into the very same jungle village where he spent most of his life. The continent is vast – to find someone born in the same Eastern European village is rare. Especially when the person is called the ‘Great White Father’ by the locals.
Personally, I am interested in the topic of grandeur – how one reaches its peak and what is the price to be paid for the glory. However, there is a myriad of things to learn from Alexander – faith, idealism or how to get the most from your life – the story is universal.
[Gudrita, Lithuania] You’re going there as a detective, Are you expecting it to become a spiritual journey at some point?
Just before finding his story I was standing on some deserted road with an unbearable jungle sun hitting me. With all that heat and thirst I felt like I was hallucinating. By now I am still not sure if this hallucination has ended as everything that happened next became a very intense experience.
[Boris, Rusia] Your film idea somewhat resembles Werner Herzog’s characters in his movies. Have you heard of him?
Although I believe our film itself will not resemble Herzog’s projects, there is much in common with him. At first, Herzog had always been a great inspiration for me showing that to make beautiful films you need to live interesting life by yourself. And of course Alexander is in a way the famous Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. The strength of Alexander is that he’s not a fictional character. He was building jungle boats, encountering the unknown Indian tribes and realizing his beautiful ideas in the middle of nowhere for real.
[Gudrita, Lithuania] How far back are you going to investigate Bendoraitis’ biography? Is his youth significant for the film?
Well, his past is a big mess. We have several biographies and his youth is a very shady period. Though the most significant events of his life took place in the jungle, we need to find out who was this man in order to understand his motifs. For example, how come a man surrounded by French high-class in Paris would leave for the Amazon jungle, which at that time was really the edge of the world.
[Rodrigo, Argentina] When you were in Brazil (pre-filming trip), did you find that locals who knew Bendoraitis were more willing to open up and talk to you, not only about him, but also about themselves merely due to the fact that you are Lithuanian?
I think for the locals of Brazil and Bolivia Lithuania is some mysterious country at the other side of the world which contains high mountains, deep seas and is very rich. This may be due to the fact that Alexander was thought to be a Lithuanian prince by the locals. But for the research I was working with local Brazilian producer who had a very nice way with people – as a Lithuanian I was jealous of him. You just can’t compare to the Brazilians in that department.
[Rodrigo, Argentina] How certain are you of your sayings about Bendoraitis corruption even before the true investigation for the film?
Alexander was a very mysterious person, but by now I believe we are the ones who know the most about him. Probably much more than some of the closest friends of his. Talking about the corruption or the dark side of the glory – we do not interpret anything, the facts come from the testimonies or documents we have collected through the last year and a half.
[Rodrigo, Argentina] In a certain way, you found your place where somebody else left an empty space. How will you escape the direct and unconscious associations the locals will make between you and Bendoraitis considering you are not only from the same country, but even investigating the priest’s life?
I am not sure if there is something to escape – the closer I can get to his life – the better. Of course there must be some distance to be kept so I would not start praising him (and such danger exists!), but by now I am trying to dig deeper and uncover not only the facts and curiosities of his life, but also the inner motivations and feelings he had and this is what really matters.
[Marius, Iceland] Your story takes place in in Brazil and Bolivia. How long are you planning to stay in each country?
The main location is the border town between the two countries. It takes around 10 minutes to cross the river from one place to another, so geographically it is the same place. On the other hand, everything is very different when you cross the border – starting from the inhabitants and finishing with the architecture. Brazil is more like a wonderland, while Bolivia has the post-apocalyptic feeling. For the main filming we plan to stay there between one and two months.
[Gudrita, Lithuania] Which languages will you use to communicate with locals?
In general there will be at least 5 languages used in the movie – Lithuanian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and German. It even might be that some local Indian dialect will be used as well. This is a big challenge when editing the movie.
[Marius, Iceland] You are an experienced filmmaker, but it’s definitely hard to make a full-length movie all alone. How many people are in your crew?
At the moment, I would say for the filming itself there will be 6-7 people in the crew – the idea is to make it as small and mobile as possible. But then there are many stages in the film: pre-production, editing, distribution. Even now we have at least 100 people who really helped us. Most of them voluntary – I really want to say sincere thanks to all of them.
[Marius, Iceland] If everything goes well, when are you planning to release the film?
Hopefully in one year and a half. As I often say, you can spend all of your life investigating a man’s life, especially if it is someone like Alexander, but at some point you need to draw the line.
To make a project about little known person or people or other matters, it is not an easy task to get a budget for. So we assumed that Vytautas and his crew had to be more creative to be able to cover the travel and production cost.
[Gudrita, Lithuania] When did you start crowd-funding your project?
We have started 30 days ago, in the middle of February, 2015. We applied for all the possible funds and saw that there is a gap which we could spend waiting for the answers or do something useful for the movie. Now I can say that it was a good decision. Maybe not only for the money we raised but because we have people who want to see the movie and it is very important for me as a filmmaker to know that I am not the only one who wants to see the film.
[Boris, Russia] Did you ask for Governmental financial support? How did it go?
It was really a miracle for us when we received some support for the film’s development back in the year 2014. This was really important to get us started. After that we worked hard and this year we received around 40 percent for the production from Lithuanian Film Center and are being evaluated as one of the strongest projects of the year. Now the challenge is to get Brazil as excited as Lithuania and then we can talk about finalizing the project.
[Rodrigo, Argentina] Haven’t you considered getting in contact with local Lithuanian communities so they can provide you with free or cheap accommodation?
Well, this is already happening. For example, in the capital of Rondonia (jungle state of Brazil) we were staying at doctor’s Vitas Kiaušas place who is also one of the film’s characters.
We try to reach the Lithuanian communities worldwide, to get them interested in Alexander as many of them went through very similar processes when living in exile. So let’s spread the news!
[Rodrigo, Argentina] Do you think that if luck is not on your side and you are unable to succeed in financing your project right now, will it be impossible to do it in the future? Even more, is it more important for you to make the movie yourself or to have the story of Bendoraitis told to the world?
Well, when you are doing something sincerely and seriously you can’t let yourself start considering a plan B, because then you might end up going for it so let’s just wait and see what happens.
[Gudrita, Lithuania] Does the story of Bendoraitis and people alike, make you feel more proud of being Lithuanian?
I don’t like the expression ‘being proud’. In Alexander’s story pride brought him a lot of trouble and this is something to learn for all of us. But I would love Lithuanians to see the film and get them to know Bendoraitis. The fact that a Lithuanian leaves to the Amazon jungle and creates an entire empire there proves that a man is capable of everything and that is inspiring!
Want to learn more about the project? Visit www.alexanderthegrand.com
We all thank Vytautas for his collaboration and wish him good luck with the project!
Special thanks to Boris and Rodrigo!
Interview by MissLape and M.Borgarbúi