The Baltic film in­dus­try: a rapid shift from be­ing a ma

The Baltic Times - - CULTURE - Michael Mustillo

The Baltic States film in­dus­try con­tin­ues grow­ing into a dy­namic, cre­ative, artis­tic am­bi­tious mar­ket that is wit­ness­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a growth in pro­duc­tion vol­ume, and fur­ther ex­tend­ing its in­ter­na­tional reach in pro­duc­tion. The in­dus­try’s re­nais­sance is fore­most re­flected in the num­bers. In the case of Lithua­nia, for sev­eral con­sec­u­tive years, there has been a dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing the grow­ing au­di­ence of Lithua­nian films in pro­por­tion to all pro­duc­tions screened in the coun­try. The au­di­ence for Lithua­nian films reached a stag­ger­ing high 23 per cent in 2014 of mar­ket share, com­pared with 2.88 per cent in 2012, while in 2016 the fig­ure was 19.5 per cent. In Es­to­nia, the fig­ure for Es­to­nian films was 10.54 per cent (2016), and in Latvia, Lat­vian films hold a 7.38 per cent (2016) of mar­ket share.

An­nual state sup­port, which is vi­tal for the Baltic Film In­dus­try, in 2017, was es­pe­cially high in Es­to­nia - 12,056,27 Eu­ros (which in­cludes the Es­to­nian Repub­lic’s 100 Years film pro­duc­tion sup­port) was al­lo­cated by the state to bol­ster pro­duc­tion. This is fol­lowed by Latvia -10,689,372 Eu­ros (which also in­cludes the Lat­vian Repub­lic‘s 100 Years film pro­duc­tion sup­port), and of which ‘‘fund­ing for the sec­tor in 2017 is the high­est since the restora­tion of in­de­pen­dence,’’ Dita Ri­etuma, Di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Film Cen­tre of Latvia has stated. The Lithua­nian Film Cen­tre al­lo­cated 4,619,000 Eu­ros to sup­port the Lithua­nian film in­dus­try.

Liana Ruokyte-jon­s­son, for­mer Head of the De­part­ment of Film Pro­mo­tion, In­for­ma­tion and Her­itage of the Lithua­nian Film Cen­tre (LFC), and the cur­rent Lithua­nian Min­is­ter of Cul­ture has noted to The Baltic Times that there is no doubt that in the case of Lithua­nia, the Lithua­nian film in­dus­try has en­joyed a re­nais­sance over the last decade. Lithua­nian Film has set the task to be­come and re­main rec­og­niz­able and vis­i­ble.

“We have been look­ing for un­con­ven­tional and mem­o­rable ways to present our­selves (and the Lithua­nian film in­dus­try). Of course, there is also the ne­ces­sity to pro­duce qual­ity con­tent. Our film­mak­ers have pulled them­selves to­gether. Their pro­duc­tions have been se­lected for lead­ing in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals’ pro­grams, and they have also been nom­i­nated for Euro­pean film awards,” Liana Ruokyte­jon­s­son has stated.

In par­tic­u­lar, Lithua­nia can be distin­guished from the Baltic States for the in­ter­est of its au­di­ence in na­tional pro­duc­tions.

“The pop­u­lar­ity of na­tional films in Lithua­nia has reached 20.17 per cent as op­posed to 4.73 per cent in Es­to­nia, and 5.78 per cent in Latvia – al­though pro­duc­tion in all three coun­tries is very sim­i­lar. Lithua­nia has been pro­duc­ing more com­mer­cial films, but grow­ing in­ter­est in com­mer­cial pro­duc­tions also in­creases the pop­u­lar­ity of art house films. Dur­ing the past few years, Lithua­nian view­ers have re­turned to film the­atres to watch na­tional fea­tures, as well as doc­u­men­taries and an­i­ma­tion films. This is an im­por­tant shift in the Lithua­nian film in­dus­try – the de­mand has emerged, and with it, the goal to reach a wider au­di­ence in Lithua­nia and other coun­tries,’’ Liana Ruokyte-jon­s­son un­der­lined.

The Baltic film in­dus­try has rapidly shifted from be­ing a mar­ginal phe­nom­e­non, due to the sup­port and in­ter­est shown by noted in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals, such as the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where films like Sharunas Bar­tas’ (one of the most prom­i­nent Lithua­nian in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed film di­rec­tors from the late 20th cen­tury) in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised film Peace to Us in Our Dreams was pre­miered. It was at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 2015 that the Baltic film in­sti­tu­tions de­cided to sign a mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment, which aimed at boost­ing co-pro­duc­tions be­tween the three Baltic coun­tries.

The three Baltic States cur­rently utilise Baltic Films, as its co-oper­a­tion plat­form with the goal of pro­mot­ing films from Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia. Baltic Films rep­re­sents the three coun­tries at ma­jor film fes­ti­vals and mar­kets. Re­cent co­op­er­a­tion was seen at the begin­ning of Au­gust at the an­nual Lo­carno Fes­ti­val in Switzer­land (a fes­ti­val founded in 1946 and one of the long­est-run­ning film fes­ti­vals in the world, which fol­lows the Cannes and Berlin Fes­ti­vals, with one of the big­gest film fes­ti­val and in­dus­try at­ten­dances) where Baltic Cinema high­lighted films from Es­to­nia, Latvia, and Lithua­nia. Baltic Cinema de­vel­oped from a part­ner­ship be­tween the Lithua­nian Film Cen­tre, Es­to­nian Film In­sti­tute, and the Lat­vian Film Cen­tre, with the Lo­carno Fes­ti­val’s First Look fea­tur­ing six Baltic films in post-pro­duc­tion.

“Co­op­er­a­tion with the in­ter­na­tional Lo­carno Fes­ti­val is very im­por­tant to us. Ex­clu­sive at­ten­tion to the cinema of Lithua­nia and the Baltic States is a strong im­pe­tus and pro­vides new op­por­tu­ni­ties for film­mak­ers. The projects pre­sented in the First Look pro­gram were ready to reach a wider in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. We were pleased to con­trib­ute to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of these am­bi­tions and be­lieve in their suc­cess,” said Rolan­das Kvi­etkauskas, Lithua­nian Film Cen­tre’s Di­rec­tor.

It was a com­pet­i­tive show­case high­light­ing movies in post-pro­duc­tion. The se­lected works in progress se­lected by the fes­ti­val in­cluded:

El Padre Medico (by Vy­tau­tas Puidokas, pro­duced by Paulius Juo­ceris, a co­pro­duc­tion be­tween Lithua­nia and Brazil). Selt­simees laps - The Lit­tle Com­rade (Moonika Si­imets, pro­duced by Ri­ina Sil­dos – Es­to­nia). The Mover (by Davis Si­ma­nis Jr., pro­duced by Gints Grube, a Latvia/lux­em­bourg co­pro­duc­tion). Paradize 89 (by Madara Dislere, pro­duced by Aija Berz­ina & Alise Gelze, a Latvia/ger­many co­pro­duc­tion). Por­tu­gal (by Lauri La­gle, pro­duced by Ti­ina Savi & Ivo Felt – Es­to­nia. Sta­sis (by Man­tas Kvedar­avi­cius, pro­duced by Ul­jana Kim, a Lithua­nia/france/ Ukraine co-pro­duc­tion).

The 2017 Lo­carno Fes­ti­val First Look jury rep­re­sented by Cannes Crit­ics’ Week artis­tic di­rec­tor Charles Tes­son, Venice Days’ deputy di­rec­tor Syl­vain Au­zou and Jenn Mur­phy, the AFI Fest’s se­nior pro­gram­mer, made awards to the fol­low­ing Es­to­nian and Lithua­nian films: Por­tu­gal, the de­but film fea­ture of renowned Es­to­nian play­wright Lauri La­gle, re­ceived 65,000 Eu­ros of prize money for post-pro­duc­tion ser­vices. The films de­liv­ery is sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary 2018. The Fes­ti­val’s press re­lease noted that Por­tu­gal was awarded first prize for its “orig­i­nal­ity and look at con­tem­po­rary life in Es­to­nia.” Other awards went to the Es­to­nian film The Lit­tle Com­rade (a fam­ily drama set in 1950s Stal­in­ist Es­to­nia) by Moonika Si­imets, who also pre­sented her first fea­ture film). Si­imets film re­ceived the Le Film Fran­cais Award, com­pris­ing ad­ver­tis­ing place­ments; and El Padre Medico (Vy­tau­tas Puidokas, Lithua­nia, Brazil) which was awarded two prizes –the Baltic View on­line plat­form and the Kai­juCinema Dif­fu­sion awards, which will pro­vide aid for the film’s in­ter­na­tional pro­mo­tion.

The Lo­carno In­dus­try Days is the per­fect place to give the right vis­i­bil­ity to the Baltic States to high­light their cinema, Na­dia Dresti, Deputy Artis­tic Di­rec­tor and Head of In­ter­na­tional, noted.

‘‘We are sure that the se­lected Es­to­nian, Lithua­nian and Lat­vian pro­duc­ers will profit from the Lo­carno ex­pe­ri­ence. No­body can be sure, es­pe­cially these days, to sell a film, but we can as­sure that the films were seen by buy­ers, fes­ti­val pro­gram­mers and other pro­fes­sion­als in town, as well as by a high pro­file jury,” said Dresti.

The Lithua­nian film EL Padre Medico is a doc­u­men­tary, which fol­lows the life of Alexan­der Fer­di­nand Ben­do­raitis, a great but some­what mys­te­ri­ous Lithua­nian doc­tor, mis­sion­ary, and phi­lan­thropist, who at the start of the 1960s set­tled in Latin Amer­ica’s Ama­zon jun­gle, where he es­tab­lished a boat­clinic network, the Ama­zon’s first jun­gle ra­dio, and the re­gion’s most mod­ern hos­pi­tal.

Speak­ing to The Baltic Times, El Padre Medico’s film pro­ducer Paulius Jouceris stated: ‘‘The best prize we re­ceived was the feed­back! There is huge work ahead of us to bring the full po­ten­tial of the footage onto the in­ter­na­tional screen, but we were promised help, so fin­gers crossed.”

‘‘The most im­por­tant prom­ise of as­sis­tance we re­ceived was from Venice Days' Deputy Di­rec­tor Syl­vain Au­zou. He saw the po­ten­tial in the footage and liked it, how­ever, his feed­back was that we need pro­fes­sional con­sul­tancy from an es­tab­lished doc­u­men­tary film­maker who could help us to struc­ture the project. The theme is re­ally com­plex and the story is hard, but has great po­ten­tial,” said Jouceris.

‘‘He promised to con­nect us with some pro­fes­sional con­sul­tants so we can con­tinue work­ing on our film. Other help we re­ceived is also im­por­tant, but at this stage we are con­cen­trat­ing on how to fin­ish up the project and reach its full po­ten­tial. With­out pro­fes­sional help for first time di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers, it might be­come mis­sion im­pos­si­ble, but when you feel that you have a strong backup ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble.”

Cer­tainly, this year‘s Lo­carno Fes­ti­val al­lowed the in­ter­na­tional film in­dus­try and the fes­ti­val at­ten­dees to take in the Baltic States film am­bi­tions, and ex­tend its in­ter­na­tional reach in pro­duc­tion. This was wit­nessed in Lo­carno where four of the six show­cased Baltic States films were in­ter­na­tional co­pro­duc­tions of the high­est qual­ity. Latvia, which in 2018 cel­e­brates its film cen­te­nary, cur­rently has pro­duced 16 new films to show­case in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, with Lithua­nia en­joy­ing a mar­ket share of 23 per cent.

The Baltic film in­dus­try’s most press­ing chal­lenge is how­ever re­lated to in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion of the films pro­duced in the re­gion. As the Amer­i­can entertainment trade mag­a­zine and web­site Va­ri­ety noted of the Baltic film in­dus­try: pro­duc­ers of all six movies, from some of the Baltic States’ high­est-pro­file com­pa­nies,

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