Latvian Cinema Overview

Cinema has been in Latvia from its very beginning - on May 28, 1896 the first “Moving Picture Show” was screened in the Solomonsky Circus in Riga, just months after the first public presentation of films by the Lumière brothers. As to the Latvian national cinema, it celebrated its centenary in 2020. The first national drama film, Es karā aiziedams / As I Go Off to War premiered on November 9, 1920.

Latvia total population: 1,907,675 (2020)

Market share of domestic films: 19.9 % (2020)

Market share of European films: 38.27 % (2020)

Feature films produced: 10 (2020)

Number of screens: 69 (2020)

Annual state support for film industry: 8.3 m EUR (2020)

Source: Baltic Films, the World Bank

 

NEW FILMS

 

 

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF LATVIAN FILM INDUSTRY

 

Latvia is a country with fewer than two million inhabitants. But its cinema is becoming increasingly diverse and gradually gaining momentum.   

 

2021 - Emmy Award winning Latvian/American composer Lolita Ritmanis was on the Oscar shortlist for best original score for her rich orchestral and choral score for Blizzard of Souls, recorded with a 60-piece orchestra and 55-voice choir in Riga’s Latvian Radio Studios. Also, won the Hollywood Music in Media Award for best score for an international feature film.

 

2021 – Latvian-Hungarian coproduction filmed in Latvia Dénes Nagy’s Natural Light won a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale 2021 for Best Director.

 

2020 - animated memoir by Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen Mans mīļākais karš/ My Favorite War won 2020 Annecy International Animation Film Prize at Contrechamps Competition.

 

2019 – animated silent film Projām/Away entirely designed animated and scored by 25-year-old Gints Zilbalodis was presented at the 2019 Annecy International Animation Film Festival, winning the Contrechamp Award.

 

2019 – Latvian-Finnish coproduction filmed in Latvia J-P Valkeapää's Dogs Don't Wear Pants was screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

 

2018–2019 Latvian producers were involved in 30 co-productions, 20 of which were minority co-productions. The role of international cooperation keeps increasing in the Latvian cinema industry.

 

2019 - director Juris Kursietis' film Oleg was screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Also, receiving nomination for Best Feature Film at the European Film Awards. While historical drama Dvēseļu putenis/Blizzard of Souls (director Dzintars Dreibergs) becomes Latvia’s biggest movie hit in more than half a century.

 

2018 - highlighted as the best year ever for Latvian cinema, mostly driven by the successful box-office results of five domestic films that made it into the annual top ten.

 

2017 - Latvian cooperation with foreign producers increased a lot in recent years. In fact, two films filmed in Latvia (co-financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia and Riga Film Fund, and using the services provided by Latvian producer) premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival: Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature in the In Competition section and György Kristóf’s Out in the Un Certain Regard section.

 

2016 - coming-of age drama Mellow Mud/ Es esmu šeit (director Renārs Vimba) won a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale in the Generation 14plus competition.

 

2015 - The National Film Centre established the programme “Latvian Films for the Latvian Centenary”, with financing of 7.5 million euros between 2015 and 2018. It resulted in the production of 16 feature-length films (six feature films, two animation films, eight docudramas), thereby regaining long-forgotten levels of production and intensity of film-making.

 

2014 - The feature-length animation Rocks in My Pockets/Akmeņi manās kabatās, 2014 by Signe Baumane received the FIPRESCI Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film festival.

 

2013 - Jānis Nords’ feature film Mother, I Love You / Mammu, es tevi mīlu (2013) won a Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus at the Berlinale. Short animation Eži un lielpilsēta/ Hedgehogs and the City (Evalds Lācis, 2012) receives Special Mention (Special Prize of the Generation Kplus International Jury).

 

2012 – Latvian-German coproduction made in Latvia Sergei Loznitsa’s Miglā/In the Fog was in the In Competition section at 2012 Cannes Film Festival and received FIPRESCI Award.

 

2010s - the local industry produces just a handful of films a year but has a strong track record at the international film festivals.

 

2008 - In January 2008, the feature film Defenders of Riga/Rīgas sargi, (2007, director Aigars Grauba, producer Andrejs Ēķis) set a record as having the largest audience for a film since the restoration of Latvia’s independence.

 

2004 – Animated film The Triplets of Belleville (Canada/France) is nominated for two American Film Academy Oscar Awards, including the nomination for the best film in this category. Latvian animation studio Rija participated in its creation with 50 animation professionals who produced about 45000 drawings.

 

2003 – The first film co-produced with the support of Eurimages – Honey Baby, directed by Mika Kaurismäki, co-produced from Latvian side by Jānis Vingris (EHO Filma).

 

2002 - Two short-film series with similar titles, Ten Minutes Older: The Cello and Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. The shorts were made by 15 famous directors, including Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, Aki Kaurismäki, István Szabó, Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. The films were dedicated to director Herz Frank and camera operator Juris Podnieks, who made the brilliant

film Ten Minutes Older in 1978, which shows the passing of ten minutes as reflected in the face of a young child.

 

2001 – Latvia joined Eurimages in 2001 and has been a member of the EU Media programme since 2002.

 

2000 – Film project Vecāks par 10 minūtēm /Ten minutes older is screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The project dedicated to Juris Podnieks and Herz Frank is among others made by Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismäki, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Chen Kaige.

 

1998 – Film Shoe/Kurpe by Laila Pakalniņa is screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

1996 - Documentaries by Laila Pakalniņa The Mail/Pasts and The Ferry/Prāmis are shown at the Cannes Film Festival and receive FIPRESCI award.

 

1995 – A film Baltie zvani/The White Bells (1961) directed by Ivars Kraulītis is included in the list of top 100 best short films of all times at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival (France).

 

1995 - Animated film directed by Nils Skapāns Let’s fly/Lidojam? from series of Munk and Lemmy receives Berlin Bear – grand prix of children’s jury in Berlin 45th International Film Festival.

 

1991 - The National Film Centre of Latvia was established in 1991. Its main aim is to provide public funding to Latvian films, to preserve the national audio-visual heritage and to promote Latvian films abroad.

 

1990 – FELIX award for the Best European Documentary goes to film Šķērsiela/Crossroad Street by Ivars Seleckis. The film also received the Joris Ivens Award at IDFA and the Robert Flaherty Award (BAFTA).

 

1988 - The Arsenal Film Forum was launched on September 23, 1988, and was the first Western-oriented event of its type in the Soviet Union. The festival was discontinued in 2012.

 

1980s – Documentaries era. Highlights include Herz Frank with Vecāks par 10 minūtēm /Ten minutes older (1978) and Augstākā tiesa/The Supreme Court (1987), Ivars Seleckis with Šķērsiela/ Crossroad Street (1988) and Jevgenijs Paškēvičs with film Garā diena/The Long Day (1981). Juris Podnieks’s film Vai viegli būt jaunam?/Is it easy to be young? (1986), became one of the most controversial films of its era and reached an audience of 28 million people worldwide.

 

1977 - The Lielais Kristaps national film award was established in 1977, and the Riga Film Museum was established in 1988.

 

1970s – Golden age of Latvian cinematography, when Latvian classics are produced – Nāves ēnā/In the shadow of death (1971, director Gunārs Piesis), Ceplis/Brick kiln (1972, director Rolands Kalniņš), Pūt vējiņi/O Blow Ye Wind! (1973, director Gunārs Piesis).

 

1960s – Beginnings of Latvian animation, the first puppet animation film in Latvia, The Rooster’s Crow /Ki-ke-ri-gū was produced by Arnolds Burovs in 1966, best examples: Umurkumurs , Bimini and Dream. Whilst Roze Stiebra created her first drawn animation, The Rainy Day/Lietainā diena in 1969.

 

1961-1963 – Riga Film Studio backlot with its film making pavilions in Šmerlis is one of the largest in Northern Europe. In the Soviet era, the Riga Film Studio made great movies while dodging the censor’s scissors. Limuzīns Jāņu nakts krāsā/A Limousine the Colour of Midsummer Eve, 1980 is Latvians’ all-time favourite comedy. Četri balti krekli (Elpojiet dziļi)/Four White Shirts (Breathe Deeply), 1967 is a story about rebellious musicians in 1960s Riga. Suppressed by the Soviet Bureaucracy, it was rediscovered years later and hailed at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

 

1961 - A new trend in Latvian film related to the Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema began in 1961 with two documentaries: The White Bells /Baltie zvani, director Ivars Kraulītis and The Beginning/Sākums, director Uldis Brauns.

 

1957 – Actress, later director Dzidra Ritenberga receives Volpi cup at Venice Film Festival as the best actress in film Malva.

 

1940 – Riga Film Studio is founded afterwards recreated after World War II. In 1948, Riga Feature Film Studio and Riga Newsreel Studio are merged.

 

1940 - Latvia’s first national hit, The Fisherman’s Son/Zvejnieka dēls, director Vilis Lapenieks, premiered on January 22, 1940. It was the first full-length talkie.

 

1934 – First sound film Daugava (director Aleksandrs Rusteiķis).

 

1925 – Riga-born Sergei Eisenstein, genius of editing and most radical director of all times, was pioneering the art of montage in world cinema, creating classics like Battleship Potemkin.

 

1923 - The Splendid Palace movie theatre in Riga was opened on December 30, 1923, and was the first building in the Baltic states to be designed specifically as a cinema. The building has maintained this function for nearly 100 years and is still a popular cinema in Riga.

 

1920 - The first silent feature made in Latvia Es karā aiziedams / As I Go Off to War premiered on November 9, 1920.

 

1913 – First feature film Where’s the Truth? is shot. Followed by two more next year – Hear O Israel and Leiba, a Shoemaker.

 

1910 – First known documentary shots are made in Latvian territory, featuring arrival of Russian tsar Nicholas II in Riga and its surroundings.

 

1908-1914 – Network of cinemas is created in Riga.

 

1896 – First public cinema show is held in Riga showing the Lumière brothers film programme.

 

1895 – The first cinema show in Riga took place in the Solomonsky Circus building, one of the oldest circus buildings in the world still working to this day.

 

Restored Film Classics online 

 

Source:  National Film Centre of Latvia

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