Obituary for Svetlana Sikora

Last week we received sad news from Lithuania: Svetlana Sikora, the first artistic director of goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film, passed away in her hometown Vilnius. We would like to express our sincere condolences to Svetlana’s family.  

Claudia Dillmann, former director of Deutsches Filmmuseum and Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF e.V. in Frankfurt as well as the founder of goEast, shares her memories of Svetlana in this obituary: 


Without Svetlana Sikora it would have been almost impossible to set up a festival of Central and Eastern European film around 1999. The then German Institute of Film Studies (DIF), a small, esteemed focal point for film-historical research in Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, seemed a rather unlikely candidate for a new, audience-driven cultural event in the state capital. The plausible reasons for taking the risk nonetheless were not only the tradition of the institute, which had organized Eastern European film weeks in the 1980s, or the confidence at the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union that a common European house as well as cultural bridges could be built, but also the certainty of in-house expertise was essential. Svetlana Sikora, a petite woman of extraordinary reserve, who had been working quietly and steadily in the non-film archive since 1992, suddenly came out of hiding and announced that she had, after all, studied film studies in Moscow at the renowned VGIK, had worked in film culture in her hometown, Vilnius in Lithuania, and was passionate about the cinematographies of Central and Eastern Europe. When asked if she would be willing to take over the artistic direction of the yet-to-be-founded festival, Sveta, usually the hesitant one, instantly said “yes” in a firm voice.

© goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film // Svetlana Sikora, goEast 2010

© goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film // Svetlana Sikora, Christine Kopf and Claudia Dillmann during the festival opening 2009


First organized in 2001, goEast proved to be unchartered territory for the team, and for Sveta the festival became the beginning of a new phase in her life: Out of the archive and into the world; traveling to international festivals, meeting and talking to filmmakers, networking in the industry, representing, negotiating, convincing, and screening films, entering them into databases, evaluating them, prioritizing them, debating them in the selection committee, and finally, exhausted but happy, accepting the praise and thanks of the professional visitors at “Caligari”. 

Sveta, excited, exhilarated and beaming with joy, broke with her old life, moved from Mainz to Frankfurt, made new friends and enjoyed her new status. During ten festival editions she was artistically responsible for goEast, especially for the program of current films from Russia and the former Soviet republics – a job that demands independence but is never free of competitive pressure, that can be gratifying but also oppressive, that blurs the boundaries between work and free time for long stretches, that seems new and exciting every year, but at the same time is inexorably subject to the rhythm of the festival year. 

The delicate person, whose fragility was often a cause for concern (even notorious chain smokers asked her to smoke less and eat more), proved to be as tough as can be in case she had to defend films that were important to her. She loved idiosyncratic, artificial films from Central and Eastern Europe, which she found easier to understand than perhaps the West German audience or some members of the selection committee, who insisted on the audience-friendliness of all works and a balance within the competition. Sveta knew how to fight in her own way: never loudly demanding, but hoping that by staying true to her opinion she would wear down her opponents over time. And sometimes she was simply right, for example when she was proud to have snatched a documentary film at an early stage, which was nevertheless rejected in heated debates, only to then win prizes at various other festivals afterwards. Starting in 2005, such fights decreased, as Sveta presented her own, new section “Signature”, her personal selection of seemingly transversal films, which were difficult to bring to a common denominator (as it was said in the catalog), other than that they were important to her.

© goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film // Chatting at Caligari Filmbühne with Alik Shpiliuk (2004) 

© goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film //Svetlana Sikora and Kira Muratova (2009)


Outside of such professional diversity of opinion, even in the quieter times after the festival, private aspects of the good life could be enjoyed carefree: Sveta was a wonderful hostess, happy when the team members were enjoying her pelmeni and vodka, generous with nick names, sensitive, approachable and always ready to help others. At the same time she revealed her own challenges only hesitantly and with time: the prospect of a financially insecure future that was not possible in this country because of her expected low pension, the worry about her mother still living in Vilnius, the probable return to Lithuania and, along with it, the threatening loss of her relationships in Frankfurt. She did not complain, she only diagnosed. When she gave up the artistic direction of goEast in 2010, because she had had enough and felt her strength was waning, she went back to a quiet desk in the DIF archive. 

Four years later, she left the DIF, the team, her network, and moved back to Vilnius, where she resumed old friendships, took care of her mother, and continued to follow all developments in the Central and Eastern European film scene attentively from her desk at home in the company of her cat.

Nostalgia for Frankfurt accompanied her. Nonetheless she did not complain,but described and remembered above all the happy moments from her past.

We also remember them! As we remember Svetlana Sikora, our Svetochka. And we will not forget her.

© goEast - Festival des mittel- und osteuropäischen Films // Teambild mit Swetlana Sikora und goEast-Organisationsleiterin Karin Schyle © goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film // Team photograph with Svetlana Sikora and, standing next to her former goEast Head of Organisation Karin Schyle