After the financial meltdown in 2008 and 2009 the recovery of Latvian film industry has been steadily improving each year. State funding for film industry increased significantly reaching 4.3 m EUR in 2014, more than double the amount from 2011. It is projected that the annual state support for film industry will increase to 5.5 m EUR in 2015.
Foreign productions filming in Latvia have played an important role in this revival. Their number is expected to increase in 2015 as the tax rebates have grown – for National Film Centre of Latvia up to 25% and Riga City Council up to 20% of the total eligible expenses. After the completion of institutional procedures in 2014 Film Riga has resumed the rebates contests in 2015.
Latvian auteur films have experienced a growth of popularity among local audiences during the past few years. This is mostly due to the emergence of a new generation of young, promising filmmakers who are gradually receiving more attention in festivals worldwide. Documentaries and animation continue to hold an important place in domestic film production.
During the last few years there is a stronger focus on promotional activities, which was evident in film publicity and advertising campaigns in 2014-2015. Emerging filmmakers are looking for new possibilities of support like crowd funding and international coproductions.
The first edition of Riga International Film Festival took place on 2-12 December 2014 as part of the programme Riga - European Capital of Culture 2014 and merging the largest existing festivals, 2ANNAS and the National Film Festival Lielais Kristaps, with additional two days of industry meetings. In 2015 the official competition gave away the first festival award for Best Feature to The Event by Sergey Loznitsa.
Domestic premieres in 2015 included three feature films: Aik Karapetian‘s horror The Man in the Orange Jacket produced by Latvia’s Locomotive Production, Locomotive Studio in coproduction with Estonia’a Jarve Studio; Māris Martinsons’s Romeo n' Džuljeta, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, produced by Krukfilms; Laila Pakalniņa’s Dawn which premiered at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in November 2015 and was awarded Best Cinematography, is a coproduction between Latvia’s Hargla Company, Poland’s Staron-Film and Miracle Worker and Estonia’s Digitaalne Sputnik.
At the end of 2015 there were three feature films in their last production stages. They are scheduled for release in 2016. Davis Simanis, known for his documentaries, is finalizing the feature film My Peaceful Place of Exile / Pelnu sanatorija, produced by Latvia’s Locomotive Production, Locomotive Studio in coproduction with Studio Uljana Kim from Lithuania. Renārs Vimba is about to finish his debut feature Mellow Mud / Es esmu šeit, produced by Tasse. War drama Chronicles of Melanie / Melānijas hronikas by Viesturs Kairišs is a coproduction between Latvia’s Mistrus Media and Finland’s Inland.
A total of 52 domestic films including features, shorts, docs and animation were produced in Latvia in 2014. There were 51 premieres including Juris Kursietis’ Modris (Locomotive Studio, Latvia/Greece/Germany), Andris Gauja’s The Lesson (Riverbed, a Latvian/Russian coproduction), Signe Baumane’s animated film Rocks in My Pockets (www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com, Locomotive Studio) and also 11 animated films, 30 documentaries and four short films.
Magic Kimono / Maģiskais kimono by Māris Martinsons is a coproduction between Latvia’s Krukfilms, Japan’s Loaded Films and Estonia’s Oree films. Shooting took place in August-September 2015 and the premiere is scheduled for autumn 2016.
What Nobody Can See / Tas, ko vini neredez, the debut feature of Stanislavs Tokalovs, produced by Ego Media, and Aik Karapetian’s feature film Firstborn / Pirmdzimtais (Lokomotive Production) are in production with the premiere expected for the second half of 2016.
Andrew Desmond’s drama The Sonata / Sonāte, a coproduction between Latvia’s Tasse Film and France’s The Project Film Club, was confirmed for rebate in 2015 but will be shot in 2016.
Three of the leading distribution companies in the country are regional Baltic distributors: Forum Cinemas, Latvian Theatrical Distribution and Acme Film, as well as Topfilm Baltic. During 2014 and 2015 small distribution companies emerged like Kino Bize and Kino Spektrs focusing on distribution of art house and independent films.
To foster the distribution of Latvian cinema, National Film Centre of Latvia in cooperation with Riga Cinema Museum introduced a new portal www.filmas.lv, the biggest Latvian film database, where everyone can legally watch films for free. The catalogue consists of 2,600 films going back to the 1920s, but at present only approximately 60 films can be watched.
New small private initiatives, like Kino Spektrs, Film Noir cafe, Kino Bize and others which emerged in recent years, added a particular dimension to 2015. They included art house and independent film distribution, film festival programmes, starting and managing small cinemas etc.
EXHIBITION AND BOX OFFICE
Latvia had 29 cinemas in 2014 (including four multiplexes) with 64 screens and 44 digital screens throughout the country. The average ticket price is approximately 4.64 EUR.
Admissions in 2014 were 2.3 m and the box office was 10.2m EUR.
In 2014 Latvian films had a 7.5% share of the national box office with 175,207 admissions and box office of 443,717 EUR. American productions hold the largest share of the market, 65%, followed by European films with 21%. The market share of European films was almost double compared to 2013. There were 210 European films in total screened in cinemas with 493,570 admissions and box office of 2.2m EUR.
Domestic films with best results in cinemas in 2015 were documentaries. Music documentary Brainstorm: In-between Shores / Prāta Vētra: Starp krastiem directed by Sandijs Semjonovs, Gundars Rēders and Audinga Kucinskaite and produced by Skuba Films had 19,500 admissions and approximately 42,000 EUR gross. Ieva Ozoliņa’s My Six Million Dollar Father / Mans tēvs baņķieris, produced by Mistrus Media, had 7,500 admissions and approximately 18,000 EUR gross. Ināra Kolmane’s Ruch and Norie / Ručs un Norie (Filmu Studija Deviņi) which was awarded four prizes at Lielais Kristaps National Film Festival including Best Feature Documentary, was also among the best performances in 2015.
Box office top ten in 2015 includes: Minions (167,302 admissions), Fast and Furious 7 (89,196 admissions), Fifty Shades of Gray (82,019 admissions), Hotel Transylvania 2 (82,801 admissions), Home (58,835 admissions), Spectre (75,441 admissions), Inside Out (57,395 admissions), Jurassic World (54,071 admissions), Spongebob Squarepants (49,894 admissions), The Martian (42,504 admissions).
GRANTS AND NEW LEGISLATION
The National Film Centre is the main film institution in Latvia. Funding for debut features, the primary source of funding for local films, was introduced by the National Film Centre of Latvia in 2014. The grants contest is held once a year, although separate tenders regarding different stages of project development are announced throughout the year. The support of the National Film Centre increased significantly to 4.6 m EUR in 2015. State funding for films grew to 5.4 m EUR in 2015. The annual state support for film industry in 2014 was 4,306,730 EUR.
The State Culture Capital Foundation provided funding for cultural projects including 789,609 EUR for film production and cinema related events (such as festivals) in 2014. The funding for film projects, mobility programmes, nongovernmental organizations and regional projects is planned to be more than 730,000 EUR in 2015.
The Riga Film Fund provides a rebate of up to 20% of eligible costs incurred by a qualifying local agent for feature, TV and documentary productions budgeted at a minimum of 700,000 EUR. The fund also offers a rebate of up to 10% for films shooting outside Riga but using services of Riga-based companies. There were no rebate contests announced during 2014, but the fund resumed the tenders in 2015.
There were three calls with support confirmed for eight international coproductions. One of the largest rebates was granted to Tacit Wisdom / Klusuciešanas gudrība produced by Latvia’s Sun & Moon Pictures Intl. and the Finnish company Periferia Productions. The rebate will be 65,037 EUR representing 10% of the costs in Latvia.
Riga is home to the historic and still functioning Riga Film Studio, which includes a water tank and a green screen. The Cinevilla Film Studios is located 50 km from Riga with its own hotel and a large back lot.
The Latvian Film Producers Association with approximately 30 members, represents the most important production companies in Latvia. The Latvian Filmmakers Union was established in 1962. Latvia also cooperates with its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania under the umbrella of Baltic Films. A major role in the region is played by Film Service Producers Association, whose members include among others the Latvian Film Angels Studio and Ego Media. These studios have vast experience in handling foreign productions shooting in Latvia.
Latvian film industry has been preparing for Latvia’s centennial since 2014 with a call for applications: 'Latvian Films for Latvia’s Centennial' held by National Film Centre. Sixteen feature film projects were granted funding, among them six fiction films, eight documentaries and two animated films. Their production will start in 2016 with the premieres set for 2018.
The leading broadcaster in Latvia is the commercial channel TV3 owned by Modern Times Group, which also purchased the channel LNT in early 2012 as part of the Swedish media company’s expansion across the Baltic region and further into CEE. MTG announced in fall 2013 that it would shift its two commercial channels in Latvia, LNT and TV3, to paid-for service using the funds to increase its original programming.
Public broadcaster LTV is funded by the state and through advertising revenues. Latvian Television started an annual film project The Code of Latvia / Latvijas kods, about contemporary Latvia, which is implemented in cooperation and with the support of the National Film Centre of Latvia and Culture Capital Foundation. New episodes are presented every year in November as part of Latvian Independence day celebrations.
LTV released a new TV series Māja pie ezera by Armands Zvirbulis in September 2015. The series is produced and co-directed by Arta Ģiga, and it was supported by LTV. Māja pie ezera is an adaptation of a book by a Polish writer Olga Sabocinska and will be screened for 13 weeks. There are also three new documentaries produced by LTV about Latvian theatre director Alvis Hermanis, composer Pēteris Vasks and poet Imants Ziedonis.
Latvia is also home of the groundbreaking cloud-based TV services company Veset.tv, which has received considerable support from private investors for expansion into foreign markets.
Riga City Council Co-financing programme
Report: Maris Prombergs
Facts and Figures 2015. Baltic Films. Creative Europe Media
Films from Latvia. 2014/2015. National Film Centre of Latvia
Nacionālais kino centrs. http://nkc.gov.lv/, 27.11.15.
Film Riga. http://filmriga.lv/lv/sakumlapa, 27.11.15.