Baltic film production soars

By Cathy Meils in Riga
    Baltic filmmakers and industry professionals are showing off the jewels of newly energized film production in the Baltic Film Competition, which opened September 17 as part of the Arsenals festival running through September 21.

    "The last two years were richer for feature films," Dace Lidumniece, a programmer and selector for the Baltic competition, said. "We chose nine feature films, compared with only five for the last competition."

    Programmer Sonora Broka agreed. "The Baltics have made a big step forward, especially Estonina cinema, with new themes in the films," she told FNE.

    Estonia, in the field of fiction features, has always been a little in advance," Lidumniece added. "It started with Autumn Ball (2007 winner of the Orizzonti prize in Venice) and The Class (two prizes at Karlovy Vary). then Latvian films began going on the international circuit, and now the Lithuanian film Loss is going around to festivals."

    The list of Baltic competition films includes several others that have gained recognition on an international level: Latvia's omnibus film Vogelfrei (Pusan, Turin, Rotterdam, and Karlovy Vary), and Karlovy Vary selections The Collectress (Lithuania) and I Was Here (Estonia).

    Local audiences are also responding to the wealth of films. In Latvia, the national 1919 epic Defenders of Riga attracted over 200,000 admissions, toppling Titanic from its first place spot for post-independence film admissions. Estonians put three local films (among them, Autumn Ball) into the top 10 box office for 2007, while I Was Here topped the box office attendance when it opened in cinemas the week before screening at Arsenals. In addition, the Estonian-Latvian animated feature, Lotte from Gadgetville, garnered sales to more than 50 countries.

    The new buzz is creating an energized Arsenals festival. Broka reports that attendance is strong, even in the multiplex salle devoted to festival films.