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Interview with IMMJMA alum Berta Tilmantaitė, recent award winner of “NPPA 2017 Best of Photojournalism”

Berta Tilmantaitė is a Lithuanian multimedia journalist

Berta Tilmantaitė is a Lithuanian multimedia journalist, specialising in photography and video. She’s a keen traveler and her visual stories from across the world focus on social issues, human rights, environment and the connection between human and nature.

After graduation in 2011, Berta worked on a number of self-funded and commissioned projects and her photo and video stories were published in various global media outlets and won awards in international contests and festivals. In 2015 Berta co-founded Nanook, Lithuania’s first multimedia platform for documentary projects.

Q: How and why did you become a multimedia journalist? Is there a story or person that influenced your path?

A: I was studying Journalism at Vilnius University (Lithuania) and during my last year I went to Danish School of Media and Journalism to study Photojournalism. It was in 2008 and multimedia journalism was starting to develop. I created a project with Soundslides (one of the first available audio slideshow software) while studying and even though now it looks funny, it was something very interesting and special back then. When I came back home, I united with a university friend and we started to work together – she produced the sound and I was in charge of visuals. Later, when I was looking for Master’s programmes, I knew I wanted more than to study only photojournalism and I came across the IMMJMA program in Beijing and that was that.

Q: As a multimedia journalist, which mediums do you use most? It seems that filmmaking is your major skill, is that right and why?

A: It depends on the story, project, and circumstances. When I travel and find interesting stories on the way, I usually produce photography and publish in magazines along with text. But when I work in my home country or if I stay somewhere longer, I like to shoot video and combine other mediums too. It gives me a lot of freedom and saves me from getting bored. Some stories work better in still pictures, some in moving images, recently I also started to work with podcasts – which is entirely different experience, and gives further possibilities to tell interesting and important stories. I’d like to try 360° cameras and VR or AR in the future when I find stories suitable for those kinds of mediums. For me, it’s very important to experiment and challenge myself and others that I work with. It’s essential to be open to the story and follow its direction – usually, it’s not me who decides how to work, but the story itself develops into the shape and medium it finds the most suitable. 

Q: Can you tell us about Nanook? – When, how and why did you start the company? How does it work?

A: I and my colleague started Nanook – a media agency, a sort of collective – three years ago. We were not happy with the journalism and media organisations in Lithuania, we both were freelancing, had international experience and saw possibilities and the need to create something new in our home country Lithuania. So we started Nanook, where we create documentary based and creative projects, podcasts and also pay a lot of attention to education – lectures, workshops, and discourses around visual and multimedia journalism.

Q: Also what does the name “Nanook” mean?

A: Nanook was the main character in the pioneering documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty. Nanook means “polar bear” – the master of bears in the Inuit religion, who decide if hunters deserved success while hunting.

Q: You’ve traveled the globe telling stories, but you still focus on reporting news in Lithuania, So which one do you think is more important for journalist, go around the world to find more stories, or focus on discovering one region.

A: For me traveling and exploring is extremely important and I think it helps to understand my region and it’s place in the world better. There is no one single or best way to work – you have to find what goes better for you. I prefer the combination of both for now.

Q: I watched your recent trailer of “TRACES: Traversing the past”, It’s stunning and I can’t wait to see the full project! Meanwhile, I realise you that you been to many risky places,what is the most dangerous thing happen to you, and how did you manage to handle that situation.

A: Thank you, I’m glad you liked it! I’ve been in a few tricky situations while traveling and working in Siberia, Nepal, Kenya or South America, but I consider myself quite lucky as everything always ends up well so far. It’s important to always be conscious, understand what’s going on around and how to deal with that. Clear mind and understanding that you have to keep on going and stay safe help me a lot. You have to trust environment and never overestimate yourself – bad things happen as soon as you think you’re in control. Be open to failure and acknowledge that something might always go wrong, but don’t let that stop you.

Q: Why did you choose the IMMJMA program to study?

A: At that time (2010) it was the first and just one of very few Multimedia Journalism programmes in the world. I was really happy to get into the first cohort of IMMJMA. Also, the opportunity to live and work in China was an incredible bonus!

Q: What was your most unforgettable experience when you were studying on the IMMJ program?

A: The whole year in China while studying IMMJ was a really important and life-changing experience for me.

Q: What was your biggest gain from studying the IMMJ program?

A: The most important thing was the realisation that I can work on stories I like in the way that I enjoy, and work as a freelance journalist in any part of the world. Right after I finished IMMJMA, I started to lecture at a university, then co-founded a media agency a few years later. Who knows what is going to happen in the future – the understanding that there are no limitations of what and how you can do things was a big breakthrough for me. Also, relationships with other students and media professionals, contacts, experiences, discoveries, knowledge and the desire to constantly know more. 

Q: What advice do you have for our current IMMJ students?

A: Never forget to enjoy what you’re doing – if you feel unhappy, there is something wrong. Studying and work must be fun, even if it’s challenging and really hard sometimes. Follow your own interests and learn what’s going on in the field of journalism, read, research, explore, self-educate yourself. Find the topics that you care about the most and develop your own way to tell stories about those topics.

Berta has BA in Journalism from Vilnius University (Lithuania), she also took a course at Photojournalism at Danish School of Media and Journalism and holds an MA in International Multimedia Journalism from University of Bolton/Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Check out some Berta’s website and some current and recent work and awards here:

  • Will to Win Stories about Lithuanian Paralympians won an award at the prestigious “NPPA 2017 Best of Photojournalism, Multimedia Awards”
  • TRACES: Traversing the Past – Berta’s currently working on an interactive documentary story covering the painful history of Lithuanian deportations of 1941 – a catastrophic event that was orchestrated and followed through by the Soviet Union.

By Aykamar Eli, 17/18 IMMJMA cohort

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