Baltic Sea Docs 2015/ 3

A place for new talent, definitely, is Baltic Sea Docs, demonstrated again at this 2015 edition. The first step for many – ”here we are, we have an interesting project, what do you think of it?” Does it have an international potential? Is it for cinema and/or television? Or for some new platforms?

And the networking aspect – can we co-produce? For someone who has been part of the event since it started on the island of Bornholm in Denmark in the last century (!), it is a great pleasure to see how the Baltic countries have created structures to develop the art of cinema, including the documentary. In the hosting country Latvia you have the National Film Centre to give development, research and production money, the same goes for the newer Lithuanian Film Centre set up in 2012 and the Estonian Film Institute. So the future of the creative documentary, or call it the artistic, is very much linked to well functioning state support mechanisms – and internationally knowledgeable production companies with producers who can take care of both the established and the new talents. This year you also saw several projects being financially supported up-front by two of or even all three Baltic countries.

Like the co-production between Latvian Uldis Cekulis (VFS Films) and Estonian Marianna Kaat (Baltic Film Production) with Kaat as

the director of ”!4 Cases”, a very timely film on the cultural problems that come from the fact that many non-Estonian speaking families ”consider Estonia their motherland, but nevertheless feel that they are not qualified to be full members of Estonian society because of some cultural disconnect and a lack of language”. A film with a focus on the children who grow up in this ”Babylon of Identities” – it was well received at the Forum.

As Kaat, Alina Rudnitskaya has a strong international track record. The director from St. Petersburg is to direct a film with the title ”Fatei and the Sea” backed by the company that produces films with Aleksander Sokurov, Proline Film. The location is Rikord Island, situated at the South-East coast of Russia, the protagonist is a sea farmer, whose profession after the fall of USSR is threatened as he has no support from the state any longer at the same time as poachers are harvesting on his territory. Rudnitskaya is to film there next year from May to October, she has not yet been there and the trailer did not reflect the style of the director. So the pitch was one of those where you ”pitch the director” – trusting that she can do something good again.

The same, ”pitching the director”, was meant to be the case with the well known producer Guntis Trekteris and talented Davis Simanis, whose ”Escaping Riga” and ”Chronicle of the Last Temple” (about the new National Library in Riga, a masterpiece in architecture) are some of the most remarkable films in newer Latvian documentary – to be added that Simanis has been an editor and editing consultant for a long range of films. It was more or less how I introduced the two of them, praising also Trekteris for his producing work of Herz Frank’s last film ”Beyond Fear”. It was the last film at the forum, ”D is for Division” with this synopsis text in the catalogue: ”Four terrifying historical photos mark four places of crime. Four places still have to live with its horrid past. A documentary exploring how some of the darkest moments of the 20th century manifest themselves through particular people and places caught on film, and how these “crime moments” strangely but still intensely affect the life in these places today”.

It did not work, not at all, was it because I overestimated the knowledge of the panelists, probably most of them had never heard of Simanis, or was it because the people around the table did not understand what Simanis – with his trailer – wants to do. Or was it because the project was pitched too early, as it was suggested by Russian Grigory Libergal in the panel. Anyway, the reactions were filled with question marks and even some doses of aggression to “what is the purpose of this project”. Conclusion, the two got some spanking, which of course sometimes can be good and encouraging for filmmakers!

On the website of the forum: www.balticseadocs.lv you will find wonderful photos from the days of pitching and from the cinema, taken by Agnese Zeltina. The one on this post is with Uldis Cekulis and Marianna Kaat, Latvia and Estonia, project “14 Cases”.

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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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