Land of Songs

Aldona Watts
2015 | 60 minutes | Lithuania, U.S.A.
U.S. Premiere | Director in Attendance

Inspired by their grandmother’s vivid accounts of her WWII-era childhood, first-time filmmakers Aldona (director) and Julian Watts (cinematographer and co-producer) travel to Lithuania with family. They arrive in Dainava, a region known as the “Land of Songs,” where they meet a sprightly group of women who have kept their village’s folk-singing tradition vibrant and essential through decades of war, occupation, and youth flight. When the sibling filmmakers return years later, only five of the grandmothers are still alive. Land of Songs is a tender, poetic record of the lives of these remarkable women and an eloquent testament to heritage—and to the universal language of folk music. 

Co-presented by CEC ArtsLink

Preceded by The Ladies


"Let us listen, dear sister, where the wind is blowing from. Is it blowing from the East, is it blowing from the from the West? Or is it blowing from the land where our parents’ souls rest?" - Lithuanian folk song

Located on the bloody borderlands between East and West, Lithuania’s geopolitical boundaries have been carved by warring regimes and occupying forces for centuries. The Baltics continue to be contested grounds today, as tensions rise between Russia and the West. Despite a war-torn history, the five distinct ethnographic regions of Lithuania have maintained their ancient cultures and dialects. The region of Dainava (which means literally “Land of Songs”) is known for its rich folk singing tradition, passed down orally through the generations since pre-Christian times. The songs of Dainava are a pillar of Lithuanian cultural identity, serving as means of recording history and folklore, coping with historical and personal trauma, and resisting oppression. In the 1980s, these songs fueled the “Singing Revolution,” a nonviolent resistance movement that paved the way for Lithuania to become the first republic to gain independence from the Soviet Union.

Today, local singing traditions are disappearing as the younger generations leave the villages for opportunities abroad. In our film “Land of Songs,” the central characters are five grandmothers who embody the boundary between the life and death of their village’s singing tradition, as they themselves approach the threshold of mortality. In Autumn they observe Vėlinės, a holy day when the wind is said to cross the border between the worlds of the living and the dead, carrying the souls of the departed home to their loved ones. The grandmothers’ songs are like the wind on Vėlinės, transcending the ever-shifting boundaries of their homeland, crossing between past and future, life and death, sorrow and joy."

- Aldona Watts | Director, Land of Songs