Sad news, Audrius Stonys said, when we met at the cinema Øst for Paradis in Aarhus, where the mini-festival Baltic Frames takes place: Uldis Brauns passed away, 84 years old. Brauns was with Herz Frank the leading man in what has been called the Riga Poetic School of Cinema. I asked Stonys how he would characterise Brauns – and Frank – he answered in a beautiful way: Frank was the brain, Brauns was the soul.
The Baltic Frames in Aarhus has the subtitle ”capturing the Poetic Everyday”, Stonys is par excellence the representative of the poetic cinema in the Baltic countries today and he will be directing the film – together with Kristine Briede – on ”The Baltic New Wave”, where Brauns will be a central director. The main producer of this upcoming film, to have its premiere in 2018, is Latvian Uldis Cekulis, who I again will thank a lot for taking me to meet Uldis Brauns in September 2014. This is what I wrote at that time:
… 90 minutes from Riga you turn down a dirt road and drive twenty minutes to reach a house standing alone (2,5 kilometer to nearest neighbour) in what you can only describe as a paradisiacal garden with tall trees, chickens and geese walking and running around, a greenhouse for tomatoes, rows of vegetables and a river down at the bottom of all the green. Silence! Not to forget an old chevrolet
and a tractor, and a cottage where Uldis Brauns took us for a traditional Latvian welcome – homemade beer…
A mild and as Cekulis said when asked yesterday, ”a gentleman” with a high sense of visuals. And a storyteller as I experienced at the visit:
… we communicated with translation help of Kristine Briede, who has been visiting Brauns many times and has his confidence. We talked about ”235.000.000”, and I got the story about the film (working title USSR 1966) that was first rejected on a project basis, when Brauns and his colleagues turned up in Moscow with a very precise budget, but on the way out from the meeting, they were called back and had an ”ok, go ahead”. Which they did to make the film that was shown in Leipzig. With consequences. Brauns was called to Moscow and was told that he should cut from the moment where the GDR high representatives left the cinema (!), no further explanation, plus some other moments including a scene from the official welcoming of de Gaulle to Moscow. Brauns was not in Leipzig, he did not know that the film would be shown there! The film exists in three versions, 70 minutes, 110 minutes and 140 minutes. The latter, the director’s cut, lies on the floor in the Riga flat of the director and needs to be restored – on the way back our small group decided to address the National Film Centre of Latvia to ask for help to have this happen.
In other words, the film was censored, from my point of view ”235.000.000” is one of the masterpieces in world documentary history, a feature duration documentary with no words, an homage to Life and to the joyful co-existence of people from the many republics of USSR. But the Kremlin people could not see that, they only saw that their leaders were not praised enough…The reason for putting aside the film can only be found in the advanced poetic storytelling and the focus on ordinary people and their lives in grief and happiness…
Uldis Brauns made numerous documentaries, one other gem is ”The White Bells” (1961). A documentary film poet has passed away.
Photo: Uldis Cekulis.