Latvia's National Hit: Defenders of Riga

By Daira Abolina
    Defenders of Riga, dedicated to Latvia's fight for independence in 1919, has become a national hit and is being screened far outside of Latvia's borders.

    Although film critics have not been unequivocal in their judgement of the film, the public has cast its vote in favour through audience numbers over the last two years. The Defenders of Riga accomplished several important things for society: first and foremost, it renewed the Latvian public's interest in Latvian film, which, over the last 20 years, has been deemed too creatively self-fulfilling and suitable for festivals, not viewers.

    Since the premiere on November 11, 2008, the Defenders of Riga was seen by 262,000 viewers, a record for a Latvian film in the last 20 years, and surpassing results from all other releases in Latvia, including Hollywood blockbusters such as Titanic. And the film's potential is not yet depleted. Thanks to a very successful marketing strategy, the film is even being screened in small, remote locations that, due to technical challenges, have not seen any films in the last 20 years! The feat was made possible because of a DVD format release especially for this purpose, which prior to being sold to the public, was offered to every municipality in Latvia for screening. The film was shown in an additional 220 regional locations.

    The film also went into international distribution in 2008. Taking into consideration the patriotic theme, the film was first shown abroad in Ireland, where a huge diaspora of Latvian guest workers has developed over the last two decades. In the autumn, the film premiered in Moscow and the USA.

    The Defenders of Riga was also recently officially submitted by Latvia for Oscar consideration in the foreign film category, the first submission from Latvia in 15 years.