Before Flying Back to the Earth

(52 min., Documentary, 2005, 35 mm, colour, video, TagTraum, Studio Nominum)

A gracefully expressive journey into the lives of children living with leukemia at a pediatric hospital in Vilnius, Lithuania. The children enter into an alien world, bereft of color and warmth, but populated with kind strangers. Their new toys are invented out of stainless steel, and new friendships are formed in the crucible of the cancer ward.

The film is described as ‘a poetic, unsentimental Lithuanian documentary about the resilience of the human spirit.’ Its laconic style and formal simplicity have been likened to haiku by some critics. ‘Before Flying Back to the Earth’ is the most highly acclaimed Lithuanian documentary film and is considered one of the best documentary films of 2005 in the world.

With: Andrius and Edgaras, Rytis, Paula, Martynas, Mantukas, Deimantas, Edgaras, Pranas, Julius and their parents
Directed by: Arunas Matelis
Produced by: Gerd Haag, Arunas Matelis
Director of photography: Audrius Kemezys
Music: Kipras Masanauskas
Editing: Katharina Schmidt
Sound: Jonas Maksvytis

An eloquent look at human resilience, the wisdom of children and the charged relationship between caregiver and patient
Sheri Linden for The Hollywood Reporter
Without intrusive explanatory narration, he immerses the viewer in the heightened experience of the fight against cancer. Through his verite approach, MATELIS trusts the audience to make its own emotional connections to the material. When the children or their parents do speak directly to the camera, they have something to say. Intercut with the footage are black-and-white stills chronicling difficult times as well as kid-stuff silliness, all of it evidence of the way acute illness can intensify our appreciation of life.
A great poetic work, full of emotion, love and respect
Ulla Jacobsen for DOX
Another of the countless qualities of the film, which sets it apart from most other films dealing with such subjects, is its avoidance of focusing on the children’s chances of survival: there is no information about who dies and who survives. It manages the difficult balance of being emotional without ever being sentimental. Every detail is carefully chosen, composed and edited, constituting a great poetic work, full of emotion, love and respect.
Everyday life as a treasure
Rasa Paukstyte for Verslo Zinios
This is an extraordinary, emotionally impressive film, surprising by the suggestiveness of the cinematic language, and I find it equal to none in Lithuanian cinematography for the past ten years. The film has already been highly evaluated by the global community of film professionals. With each frame, each “seam” of editing it talks of everyday life as a treasure, which exists outside the walls of the hospital but it’s just impossible not to feel it. Of course, our local visual context is too narrow for this film of Matelis. Compared to the works of documentary art, the context of “Before Flying Back to the Earth” consists of the works of world-known masters of documentary – Kossakovsky, Depardon, Kieslowsky. The filmmakers who made their artistic ambitions serve people and encouraged the viewers to look beyond their personal world. “Before Flying Back to the Earth” steps over the limits of just a good film and becomes a phenomenon of our culture – the culture of communication between the creation of art and the viewer.