Across the Roads, Across the River – 7 on Riga

It was presented last year at Baltic Sea Docs and there it was on the big screen at Splendid Palace, the film that was made on the occasion of Riga being the Cultural City of Europe.  A so-called omnibus film consisting of seven films by European directors, who have been asked to take a look at the beautiful city at the Daugava river.

Short films (from 12 to 20 minutes) in other words, a film genre that was once the one that opened a cinema screening before a feauture film. A time slot, to use a television term  that now has been conquered by commercials.

But not last night at the Splendid Palace, previously called ”Riga”, a cinema dating back to 1923, and it felt natural that the first film was by Lithuanian film poet Audrius Stonys, whose love for archive material comes out in his fine, well-balanced tour on board some small fishing boats, shifting between today and before, celebrating men and tradition. German Rainer Komers went further out to the delta of Riga and gives the audience an impressionistic picture of what he saw and heard from man and surroundings, whereas Austrian artist Bettina Henkel stays in the old town of Riga, in ”“Theater

Strasse 6”, which is an investigation in the same time about a building in Old Riga as well as into her own family history and in a broader sense part of Latvian history.” I have to say that I did not get it, I just saw the director putting papers on walls and furniture as a kind of installation, messy and boring to watch. As was, boring, the piece of Sergei Loznitsa, ”The Old Jewish Cemetery”, an observation of people in the location of today, a poor district, watched by the director and conveyed clinically without colours. Why?

After two films – this is of course the danger of putting seven films together – which made you a bit sleepy to be honest, the energy returned with the last three contriobutions. Danish Jon Bang Carlsen followed a cat around, actually several cats with a beautiful white one in focus, entertaining and original idea and you get to see Riga from many angles with May 9 celebrations as one of the backgrounds, Victory Day of ww2, parallel to a sequence of a cat playing with the mouse. A metaphor? Also very convincing and well composed is the film of Estonian Jaak Kilmi, who was at ”the virgin island”, where people for decades have had their small houses, living there during summer time. It is a warm film about a special place and a special culture that now will disappear, a text is announcing at the end of the short cinematic visit. And of course the old local master Ivars Seleckis ends the film in the style he used in the Crossroad-trilogy, here through a visit to the Kipsalu district meeting people, who live there and observing restaurant life, a regatta on the river, joyful, a bit touristic maybe but does it matter when there is warmth and cinematic skills?

The films are linked through presentations made by the directors, reflections on filmmaking, short, manifesto-like, a brilliant thought realised by Latvian director Davis Simanis. He is on the photo ready to film Jon Bang Carlsen.

Conclusion: Great effort, not totally succesful, but nice to watch and not only for Rigans and Riga-lovers like me, the long duration is of course complicating an international distribution. But why not – an appeal to television people – reserve small time slots weekdays and show one after the other. And festival people, take it as it is, or pick some of them for your short film programme.

Latvia, Mistrus Media, 2014, 140 minutes 

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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