The Baltic Python Bites

in 17th Riga International Film Forum Arsenals

by Ligita Lukstraupe

For an occasional visitor the results of the latest “Arsenals” festival might seem like a parade of local filmmakers – 2 major prizes went to Latvia and Estonia (not to mention those 4 awarded within the Baltic competition), and only one was raffled to a “foreigner”: “Saddest Music in the World” from Canada. It is difficult to tell, whether it was a coincidence (3 different international juries), tendency or tribute to the festival organizers, yet one is clear – the Baltics have woke up after a lengthy brumal sleep.

The victories of films from so minute a cinema area (in 2002-2003 Estonia: 116 films, 6 full length movies; Latvia: 48; 3, Lithuania: 51; 2 accordingly) highlights strong professional competence and fresh creative potential of the region. As to the best film by the FIPRESCI jury “The Python” (its first night took place in “Arsenals”) and the best Baltic film – documentary “BUS”, both dir. Laila Pakalnina, these were real highlights of the festival irrespective of the presence of works by more mature filmmakers, showing that the strength of FILM lies not so much in the story but in the cinematographic means, sense of atmosphere and perfect timing which is characteristic of Pakalnina. Slow but intimate and observant camera, confronting the viewer with the past and seeking for identification with the present is typical of both Askolds Saulitis’ documentary “Keep Smiling!”, Latvia (considered as the best by the INERFILM jury) and Sulev Keedus’ “Somnambulance”, Estonia (best Baltic movie). And one should note that all the winners are less than 40 years of age which allows lots of hope for the future.

Yet, learning from this year’s experience the organizers should reconsider the concept of the of the festival in order not to lose “unorthodox”, unconventional and amazing films form other countries which “Arsenals” has always been rich with, in the periodic “account” of the Baltic filmmakers so natural to the venue.

Latvian director Laila Pakalnina – the main heroine of “Arsenals” 2004, when receiving the third prize running, admitted that next time the organizers might ask her to become the general sponsor of the next festival, yet the financial side of the prizes in the Baltic states is of huge importance. Due to cinema-friendly ministers of culture the movie budgets of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are gradually growing, cherishing promise of new good films in the future.

Ligita Lukstraupe