The Side Programs in Riga

in 17th Riga International Film Forum Arsenals

by Nils Gjerstad

The films shown in the 17th film festival in Riga were divided into 12 sub-programs, a colourful blend of films from all around the world. All together, more than 160 films were screened from the 18th until the 26th of September 2004. These were; a Baltic programme, Guns and Roses, Mama Africa, Europe.doc, Evening screenings, Land of the Crazy Gods, In Vino Veritas, Music Non Stop, Panorama and Special Events.

Many of the films in the programs were in general older than films shown at other European festivals. There are two reasons for this. First, Arsenals is held only every second year. Consequently the festival aims to sum up some important movies from some of their neighbour states from the last two years. The Icelandic Noi Albinoi, along with the Swedish Ondskan, the Danish Reconstruction and Norwegian Buddy are examples of this.

The other reason for showing somewhat older films is that few European and American films are distributed to Lativan cinemas, mostly only the crowd-pleasing blockbusters seem to come to a theatre near the Latvian people. In practical terms this means that most of the local audience haven’t had the chance to see a number of interesting movies on a big screen before. Certainly a screening of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) appeared awkward to some of the foreign visitors. But the reason was logical. It hasn’t got a distribution in Latvia yet, so for many local people this was the big chance to finally see Michael Moore’s controversial and hilarious take on American gun policy. And of course it fitted well into the Guns and Roses program. Under this label were a number of controversial films dealing with American politics, such as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant also depicting the Columbine massacre. And Enid Zentelis’ critically acclaimed Evergreen about a Latvian family in present day America striving to make ends meet. While Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes seemed a more strange selection in this program, as it has little to do with politics or controversy.

“Land of the Crazy Gods” contained movies from South America only. Among these were strong films such as The Crime of Father Amaro, The Magic Gloves and The Man who Copied. The “Mama Africa” program provided a journey to Africa and contained only African or co-produced African movies. The program was smaller than the others, and most of these films were two or three years old. Europe.doc on the other hand was a program of European documentaries. The oldest was Ulrich Seidl’s Losses to be expected from 1992, but the rest were new productions. The Yes Men from 2003, which strangely enough was an American production (!), was the one that seemed to create most discussions afterwards.

Even music lovers got their spoonful at Arsenals with “Music Non Stop”. This program dealt with modern music forms, and contained everything from Gimme Shelter from 1970 (rock) Standing in the shadows of Motown (Motown and soul) and 24 hour party people (British new wave) and Red White and Blue (blues). All of these films provided a wide variety of modern music.

The program “Evening films” was just a fine blend of quality entertainment films, such as The girl with the Pearl Earrings, but also some deeper films, such as the Brazilian Carandiru, which provided food for thought.

Panorama was the biggest program, and contained documentaries about journeys to all continents of the world. As was written on the festival’s netpage “(…) In the World Cinema Panorama we offer you an opportunity to travel around the world in just nine days by going on journeys to all the continents through the images of documentaries. (…). Perhaps you will fall in love forever with a particular country, or perhaps you will discover a secret island within yourself.” With such a fascinating description one’s curiousity as a moviegoer certainly is aroused.

More limited was “Vino Veritas”, a special selection of classic Georgian films, from the 1960s to the present. This program was due to the fact that this year’s festival in Riga should – among other things – be a celebration of Georgian films. Legendary Georgian filmmaker Mikhail Kohbahidze was most heavily represented, with three films in the program. Georgian culture and food was also in focus both on the opening ceremony and the closing party.

“Special events” proved to be a mixture of old and new films, from the absurd political Soviet movie Happiness from 1934 to the biographical feature Luther from 2004.

As the side programs on the film festival in Riga had both new and old films it had the odour of a film club, but at least a rather intellectual and high-quality entertainment film club. Most of the films seemed to be popular enough with the local audience. And obviously some of the movies were only meant for the local audience as many screenings were only provided with subtitles in Russian (and with Latvian voice-over in headphones). Watching for instance Takeshi Kitano’s Zaitochi was difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with Russian or Japanese. But with the program’s widely international span, it certainly had something for everyone.

Nils Gjerstad