Baltic Cinema Conference: Riga, September 2008

September 17, 2008 at 12:51 am

The conference, organized by Prof. Irina Novikova of Latvia’s National University with the participation of several Latvian organizations, took place at the intimate premises of Riga’s Film Museum, tucked away at the end of winding cobblestoned pedestrian alleys, among the lovely buildings of Riga’s Old Town. The conference coincided with the museum’s exhibition on Riga’s famous son, director Sergei Eisenstein, who spent here the first seventeen years of his life (one-third of the directors’ short life). This imaginatively organized exhibit was impressively curated by the Museum’s Elina Reitere; it came along with the publication of the booklet Riga’s Boy (pictured).

The conference brought together scholars involved in the study of film from the three Baltic republics and the United States. There were sociologists, as well as film, cultural, and media studies people, who gave presentations highlighting different aspects of cinema in the region. Some looked into the work of the Baltic documentary school, analyzing the work of such important directors like Juris Podnieks (Maruta Vitols) as well as various films related to memory representations (Violeta Davoliute, Olga Proskurova, Aune Unt). Others explored the cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, looking at issues of memory, nationalism, narrative and space in these cinemas (Aija Rozensteine, Eva Naripea, Irina Novikova). Pritt Parn, the highly esteemed Estonian animator, was the subject of Mari Laaniste’s wonderful presentation on his masterpiece, Eine murul/Luncheon on the Grass (1987). Some of the talks were dedicated to the most recent cinema from the region — e.g. Viktors Freibergs’ talk on the Latvian Vogelfrei (2007), a project by four directors, or Arturas Tereshkinas’ on Lithuanian commercial hit Zero. Lilak Lithuania (2006). Documentary filmmaker Jonas Ohman, a Swede who works in Lithuania, showed an excerpt of his new film The Hitmen (2008), featuring interviews with Soviet collaborators from the late 1940s. Critic Dita Rietuma presented a detailed talk on the work of Laila Pakalnina. Alina Zvinkliene (Vilnius) explored the matters of stereotyping and cross cultural representations. Industry and audience conscious scholars like myself and American Bjorn Ingvoldstadt kept bringing the discussion back to issues of audience research, relevance, and distribution.

In the post-Soviet period the film production in the region initially dwindled but then previous output levels were restored. Nowadays each one of the three republics releases several features every year, as well as animations and documentaries (and, of course, the national film centers are working hard to attract international runaway productions). We had the chance to see two recent Latvian films. The first one was Monotony (2007) by Juris Poskus, a drama about young people from the Latvian periphery, who have difficulties communicating and who, as a result, end up making moves that they would probably not take if they were able to talk properly to each other; the film has won several awards at festivals in the former Soviet sphere, touching on issues of lack of direction in life, outmigration, and so on. The other one was a recent absurdist short by Latvia’s leading avant-garde filmmaker Laila Pakalnina, called Stones (still to be released), a film picturing the weird way in which a local oligarch is building his stone garden but in fact a treatise on human exploitation and inertia revealilng the director’s idiosyncratic sense of humor.

© Dina Iordanova
17 September 2008