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The Riga International Film Festival will feature national premieres of internationally acclaimed Latvian films

Festivals 2019-10-04

The Riga International Film Festival, which will be held from October 17 to 27, will feature the national premieres of several Latvian films that have already received acclaim at other international film festivals, including "Immortal", which received the Grand Prix at Karlovy Vary, and Laila Pakalniņa's black and white film "Spoon". Kārlis Lesiņš' drama on depression – “The Despair”, with Kaspars Zāle in the lead role – will also be shown on the big screen for the first time, as will the Latvian-German co-production “The Birth of the Leopard”, a documentary about a legendary love story linking the Latvian town of Stāmeriene with Sicily.

National film premieres at RIGA IFF provide the opportunity for a growing number of respected film professionals from around the world to see the latest Latvian films and their premieres on the big screen right here in Riga. A premiere of a Latvian film is always a special event for the festival as it creates a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge national cinema and participate in celebrating the achievement. Sometimes a film makes its national premiere after it has already been screened for competitions at prominent foreign film festivals, which is the case this year with “Away” and “Spoon”; at other times, it is local audiences who will first see the film on the big screen, as it is this year with Kārlis Lesiņš’ “The Despair” and Emīls Alps’ “Choir. Conductor. Kamēr…”. RIGA IFF also invites audience to celebrate Latvian cinema.

On October 19, the film “The Despair” – award-winning director Kārlis Lesiņš’ feature-length debut featuring Kaspars Zāle, Alise Danovska, Līga Zeļģe and Vita Vārpiņa – will see its premier. The film is about Gatis, a freelancer who is struggling with depression and the modern-day affliction of burnout. He goes to his childhood home to rest, recover and clear out his mind, but accidentally ends up in a strange, cult-like therapy group that appears to aid the healing process, yet also uncovers the dark corners of Gatis’ subconsciousness as he comes to face childhood traumas and ghosts from the past. Going back home becomes a tough psychological struggle with both one’s self and one’s past. Kārlis Lesiņš, the film’s director and screenwriter, admits that this is a very personal and painful subject for him. ‘Yes, I have gone through something similar myself. I wanted to tell others about it because I know that I am not the only one – many will identify with the subject,’ reveals the director, who is a veteran recipient of two ‘Lielais Kristaps’ National Film Awards.

A significant page of European history directly related to Latvia will be opened by the Latvian-German co-production “The Birth of the Leopard”, which will be coming to Riga immediately after its world premiere at the Hamburg Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, known worldwide for authoring the Italian best-selling novel The Leopard. (The 1963 screen version directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon received the Grand Prix at Cannes and is considered a masterpiece.) Legend has it that Tomasi wrote part of the novel in Latvia while visiting his Baltic-German wife, Alexandra von Wolff-Stomersee, at Stāmeriena Castle. The film is laid out as the recounting of relationships; it is about an unusual love, about friendship through years of hardship, banishment and loss, and about the determination to not lose oneself during times of great change and to constantly rediscover oneself. The film’s score is by Kārlis Auzāns and features actresses Karīna Tatarinova and Sarmīte Vucāne. With costume design by Berta Vilipsone, the film was produced by Gints Grūbe and Elīna Gediņa-Ducena.

At RIGA IFF audiences will be able to finally see “Immortal”, the Estonian-Latvian documentary film that received the Grand Prix at Karlovy Vary. The film allows viewers to see a different angle of how a Russian citizen is ‘produced’. The film’s director, Ksenia Okhapkina, went with a film crew to northern Russia to a former gulag where political prisoners and deportees were once imprisoned. The film uncovers the mechanism that encourages people to voluntarily deny their personal individuality and become a serviceable resource of the state. The ultimate goal of these people is to give their lives to the ‘Motherland’, thereby achieving immortality. ‘This is a film about people who have been brought up by propaganda,’ says Okhapkina. ‘Having made this film, I have a better understanding of what is happening in Russia – why people support a government and political system that work against them and their children.’ The screenplay was co-authored by Pauls Bankovskis, who spent a lot of time in conversation with the film’s director.

The second film to have made its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival but its Latvian premier as part of the RIGA IFF Feature Film Competition programme is Laila Pakalniņa's documentary “Spoon”. The film follows the lengthy life-cycle of a simple plastic spoon – from black crude oil to a white spoon, the life purpose of which is exactly one meal. The film was made in black and white because as the director says: crude oil is black and the spoon is white. This currently very relevant ecological theme of illustrating the absurdity of modern consumer society – produce, use, throw away – has been packaged in artistic high-quality form by cameraman Gints Bērziņš, a co-author of nearly twenty of Pakalniņa’s films. Unlike many of Pakalniņa's films which are usually shot only in Latvia, the geographical scope behind “Spoon” is very broad – material for the film was also sourced from Lithuania, Norway, China, Hong Kong and Azerbaijan; the film is a co-production of Latvia, Lithuania and Norway.

Emīls Alps’ documentary “Choir. Conductor. Kamēr…” tells the story of the famous youth choir's journey journey to the Tolosa Choral Competition, at which the grand prize must be won to qualify for the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing. The film’s director had the opportunity to capture moments that are usually hidden from outsiders. Created by a choir member, the film offers unprecedented insight into the singers' passion for music and the overcoming of difficulties.

Several short films by Latvian filmmakers will see their national premieres as part of the RIGA IFF programme SHORT RIGA.

Over eleven days, the Riga International Film Festival, which will take place from October 17 to 27, will screen 148 films within eleven thematic programmes and competitions. The full festival schedule and tickets to all screenings can be obtained at the festival’s website: rigaiff.lv.

RIGA IFF is supported by the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, the National Film Centre, Live Riga, and the Riga City Council.