Sonora Broka Talks about the Riga International Film Festival

Sonora Broka Talks about the Riga International Film Festival
Mārtiņš Otto, Riga 2014
This coming December, the last month of the European Capital of Culture 2014, will be largely devoted to cinematography. Riga will host the European Film Awards Ceremony and various events associated with the ceremony, the best Latvian films will be presented with the “Lielais Kristaps” National Film Awards, and the first Riga International Film Festival will run from the 2nd to 12th of December, presenting rich and diverse programme targeted at both cinemagoers and film professionals. We are meeting with Sonora Broka, the Director of the Riga International Film Festival, to learn about the aims of the festival and the challenges it is facing, and the recent breath of fresh air in Latvian film industry.

When people talk about the developments to take place at the close of the year, they often emphasise that this is the first time Latvia hosts events of such major importance to the film industry. What are the far-reaching goals of these projects, and what advantages could be expected in the future from the European Film Awards Ceremony and the Riga International Film Festival?

2014 is a special year because it has lent an international dimension to the film industry in Latvia. There have been quality film festivals here also before the Riga International Film Festival, but for the past several years, there was a kind of an intermission. Starting something new, stepping forward and saying that you are a noteworthy player is always difficult, but this year a favourable confluence of circumstances has given us a good springboard to take the plunge. We could say that the sun of the European Film Awards will shine down on us as some ninety international media representatives will come to Riga. I am already receiving letters from various foreign journalists who wish to also attend the Riga International Film Festival, not just the EFA events. So this springboard will indeed make it easier for us to work in the future. We will have already made ourselves known to the world, and the prospective co-operation partners – international film festivals, film institutes – will already know about us.

I therefore can say with certainty that we will benefit greatly from all this international attention, which later will evolve into a broad range of contacts.

So next year’s festival is only a question of doing it. Furthermore, next year we will have more freedom as the European film context will be gone, we will also be able to attract more films from other parts of the world to diversify our retrospectives and create special thematic programmes.

Will the National Film Festival “Lielais Kristaps” go hand in hand with the Riga International Film Festival and be held every year?

It will, much to our delight. The number of films registered for the festival proves that Latvian film industry is not exhausted at all. Rather, the question is how our film industry communicates with the Latvian viewer. Thanks to the annual “Lielais Kristaps” festival, this communication is much more active.

In the context of “Lielais Kristaps”, is the Latvian film industry prepared for an annual festival of Latvian films?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, although my focus was on the Riga International Film Festival, not “Lielais Kristaps”. Quite often, when I’m telling someone about the festival, they want to know how we are planning to make people go see the films, fill the cinemas. But this mechanism works a little different than we’re used to think.

It is not viewers who make a new, major festival happen – it is the event that makes it possible to draw large audiences.

Such an event prompts people to go watch films. The programme of children and youth films will play an important role, as we will show films even for the smallest filmgoers, those who can already sit through a film in a cinema. Therefore the new generation will have a notion of what cinematography is – such that is different from Hollywood’s principles of storytelling and makes the viewer want to think over and discuss what they have seen together with their moms. It is a natural environment to bring up a filmgoer who will not reject a film if it’s not in a shiny wrapper. I’d like to mention the Göteborg International Film Festival as an example – it takes place in a small port city, and yet it is the region’s largest film event, bringing together large numbers of film professionals and viewers. It is also a much anticipated event for the residents of the city and the neighbouring areas. Entire families go to see films and later visit a restaurant to discuss their impressions…

Of course, the previous film festivals in Riga have proven that people do like such film events, and they indeed are needed. However, speaking of Latvian film industry, do we make so many films every year for them to be evaluated and awarded on an annual basis?

The festival’s programmes will include a total of 98 Latvian films this year. Can you think of someone who goes to cinema for ten days to watch 98 films? Now there will be such opportunity, to see Latvian films of the year in one place to get the picture of what has happened in the Latvian film industry during the past year. This is also the best format for filmmakers as it draws more viewers. I believe it is all the better for Latvian films. Furthermore, “Lielais Kristaps” is, on the local scale, an award of major importance, proving that your work is respected by colleagues and the public.

There are foreign experts in “Lielais Kristaps” jury today, thanks to the European Film Awards. Will such “detached” jury members also be present in the festivals to come?

The festival’s jury will include our long-time partners and colleagues from our partner institutions. This is a good move to find new ways for Latvian films to enter the international arena, other film festivals, possibly even international distribution. The film forum “Arsenāls” formerly ran a competition of Baltic films, invited to which were international film festivals’ programme directors. That way, these people had unique opportunity to get a full picture of what was happening here, learn about the current trends, film personalities. It would be a crime not to make use of it.

Tallinn was the European Capital of Culture in 2011, when it also hosted the European Film Awards Ceremony. What have you, as the organisers of the Riga International Film Festival, learned from their experience?

Tallinn usually hosts the “Black Nights” film festival around this time, and the Estonians did not have to invent anything. One important thing we need to remember – it is, of course, a great honour if our country is visited by so many popular personalities, but it is a major event for the local public in the first place. We have to think of how to create a festive mood for those who come and see the films, as much as for filmmakers. The festival is not just about the red carpet for the stars who come to Riga, it is a major celebration for the city. In the meantime, the organisers of the Vilnius International Film Festival in Lithuania regret that they did not use the opportunities provided by the European Film Awards Ceremony when Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture.

Have you considered future co-operation of the Baltic countries, perhaps even in organising one joint film event?

On the one hand, this is what we do already, because the Riga International Film Festival will present a programme of Baltic films at the Latvian National Library, of which one, Estonia’s “Kertu”, has been included in the Selection List of the European Film Awards. I believe that such a merger would do a great deal of good, but how this plan will proceed remains to be seen. In small countries like ours, there is a pronounced principle of individuality, everyone is busy taking care of their own business, and heaven forbid that somebody else should try to offer a piece of advice. Our original idea, to combine several Latvian festivals, suffered a similar fate. Of course, every one of those involved was used to compete for his place in the sun, so there seemed to be no way to get everybody under one “umbrella”.

But time has shown that it is not impossible to strike a happy medium, without hurting the identity of every individual festival, and achieving much greater recognition for every one of them.

How does Latvian film industry look in the overall European picture? Several Latvian media have indicated that not a single Latvian film is competing for the European Film Awards this year.

I would certainly like to add that the European Film Awards is not the only criterion to judge our films. If we look at the latest Latvian films – many of the feature films are directorial debuts, which is an excellent achievement. And three of these films have marched victoriously through some of the major international festivals. Andris Gauja’s “The Lesson” is still earning accolades, Juris Kursietis’ “Modris” has already gained much acclaim, and Aiks Karapetjans’ “People Out There” has also had very good experience of participating in festivals. I expect that his next film “MOŽ” will do even better. Likewise, we have to mention Jānis Nords’ “Mother, I Love You”, which has brought home many different awards.

Right now we are witnessing a breath of fresh air in the Latvian film industry, and film professionals in the world do know about us.

The festival of short films “2Annas” closed on the 26th of October, offering the opportunity to see and feel this “fresh air”. How are Latvian films changing, can we draw any conclusions from watching films by young directors?

Indeed, Latvian films are changing and the young directors are different, just like we ourselves and the entire society are changing. A colleague of mine, the Film Producers Association of Latvia Head Aija Bērziņa said, currently film directors prefer to tell about themselves, their contemporaries, about what’s happening around. The situations they deal with are not “smoothed out”, and this may be what appeals to the public. The films are not separated from our everyday life, the stories they tell are becoming increasingly successful and able to find their way to the viewer.

“The Lesson” is one such example – the film has garnered vastly different responses, which means that the viewer has not been indifferent, the film has caused some kind of controversy.

There will be many media and film industry representatives coming to Riga for the European Film Awards. What is the set of “staple” Latvian films that a newcomer should see to get a notion of Latvian cinema?

First of all, Signe Baumane’s “Rocks in My Pockets” is a must-see. People were standing in lines in the U.S. to buy tickets and see the film. In Latvia, the film generated great publicity, however, not many people actually went to see it. It is a unique experience, both in terms of animation and narration, where very personal matters are told through animation, furthermore, it’s not heavy-going but gives food for thought, and for a long time. Then there is “Modris”, which has just had its premiere. It may become an example of new narration style and may set a benchmark to evaluate further development of the film industry of Latvia. Yet another must-see is Dāvis Sīmanis’ “Escaping Riga”, a unique cross-genre project – on the surface, it seems like a documentary film, but there is very little documentary in it.

I also certainly recommend Arvīds Krievs’ “Picture of a Woman with a Wild Hog”. The director marks his 70th birthday this year, a fact we will definitely mention in our festival’s catalogue and, hopefully, organise a retrospective of his films. This particular film, as well as his other film, “Raspberry Wine”, are very important Latvian films that one should really see. Of course, there’s Ivars Seleckis and his spouse and colleague in all his creative efforts, Maija Selecka – a pair that will receive a lifetime achievement award at the “Lielais Kristaps” award ceremony this year. They have made the “Crossroad Street”, a film that won the European Film Award in 1990, and many other notable films.

The Riga International Film Festival will be held from the 2nd to 12th of December this year. In the evening of the 12th of December, the “Lielais Kristaps” National Film Awards ceremony will take place, to be followed, one day later, by the European Film Awards Ceremony at the Latvian National Opera. More information about the Riga International Film Festival is available on www.rigaiff.lv.

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