RIGA - The Riga International Film Festival (RigaIFF) may not be considered one of the world’s most renowned and acclaimed film festivals, but as one guest at the opening pointed out, it is “much more homely” than grander festivals like Cannes or Venice.
This year’s RigaIFF — which ran for a week last month, and was a paradise for the city’s cinema buffs — received a turbo boost from the inclusion of Vitaly Mansky’s brilliant ArtDocFest in the event programme.
Mansky is a Ukrainian born, award-winning director. His presence raised the profile and professionalism of the festival far beyond Latvia’s borders, and it is perhaps the first time in the festival’s short history that it has gained such widespread attention.
Part of the reason came down to politics. The politically charged context of his arrival in the Latvian capital caused a stir. Widely regarded internationally as one of Russia’s leading documentary talents, Mansky established the ArtDocFest in Moscow back in 2007, intending it as a platform for showcasing Russian-language documentaries, and to serve as a forum for the free discussion of ideas.
But the Russian authorities withdrew funding, for reasons Mansky suspects to be political, a show of contempt for his views on the Ukraine conflict which differ from those of the Kremlin. He moved to Latvia in protest.
Given the tense relations between Russia and the West as a result of the Ukraine conflict, the move has gained attention far beyond the usual documentary film circles.
Mansky has arrived in Riga full of energy and ambition, intending to make sure he keeps up ArtDocFest’s high standards in Riga, focussing on important social and human issues.
He informed The Baltic Times that it has become impossible not only to hold such open and honest debates in Russia, but difficult to also organize the festival itself. His decision to depart Russia came about primarily on observing the voting in the Federation Council for the right to use military force in Ukraine. “It was enough for me,” said Mansky.
As soon as Mansky heard this news, he immediately departed for Latvia and purchased an apartment, where he was granted residence rights by the Latvian state .
“Obtaining a residence permit in Latvia is easier than getting air conditioning installed in Moscow,” said Mansky.
During his interview with The Baltic Times, Mansky noted that the only thing that keeps him in balance with life “is that the people in power in Russia are fools.” Mansky was referring to the withdrawal of funding for his festival.
“They openly proclaimed our festival as anti-State, and claimed that they would block all the projects I am involved in,” said Mansky.
“The authorities supposed that if they didn’t provide us with finances that the festival would die. But our festival grew twice as big, in fact, when we won a number of awards in Europe.”
The Russian state believes Mansky should not have felt entitled to funding.
“Mansky has no right to ask for money from the state whose position he rejects,” stated the Russian Culture Minister, Vladimir Medinsky, in November 2014.
“It’s paradoxical that most of the films in the program of this year’s ArtDocFest directly relate to Russia, but cannot be showed in this country,” said Mansky during his interview.
Tensions between Mansky and the Russian government commenced in the spring of 2014, after he signed the “We Are With You” open letter, which was intended to take a firm stand on what was and still is occurring in Ukraine. Mansky was himself born in Lviv, Ukraine.
A mutual collaboration between the RigaIFF and ArtDocFest, the relocation of ArtDocFest to Riga will allow Mansky to continue his efforts in presenting cutting-edge world premieres and allow Mansky to continue to raise various questions beyond political comfort zones.
Also featured during the festival was Mansky’s recent documentary “Iconoscope.” It is a film that aims to reveal the hypnotic power of television.
Mansky’s newest newest film “In the Rays of the Sun” is about North Korea. It was screened at the Leipzig Film Festival during late October, and will have its official world premiere at Tallinn’s Black Nights festival in November.
The capital Mansky raised in numerous other European countries for his new film, he pumped back into the Latvian economy.
“I’ve been working with a Latvian composer for the soundtrack for the film, the recording was done in Latvia, as was the film’s montage. But Latvia hasn’t invested in the film at all,” said Mansky.
“We are spending and investing money in Latvia through this film project, and this movie is being invited to the biggest international movie festivals, and the country of production includes Latvia.”
Mansky commented that he considers it surprising and wrong that Latvia should not have a big international professional film festival.
“I will do what I can to change this situation,” said Mansky.
Mansky is also working on a new documentary, which will involve a Latvian producer, and ten other countries.
“I think it will be the biggest Latvian co-production in recent years,” said Mansky.
Mansky believes that the Latvian movie industry hasn’t found itself yet. It lost the Soviet market, and hasn’t been able to capture the European market.
“Today’s Latvian actors lack status in Europe,” Mansky believes.
Furthermore, for Mansky, he is surprised and does not understand why Estonia, being a smaller country compared to Latvia, is able to find more funding than Latvia to support its movie industry, including documentary filmmaking.
“I would like to remind you that last year an Estonian movie was nominated for an Oscar.” Mansky was referring to the Estonian film Tangerines, directed, produced and written by Zaza Urushadze (Georgian film director and screenwriter). It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards for 2014, and was among the five nominated films at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards for best foreign language film
Mansky also noted that the Black Nights Film Festival, which takes place in Tallinn from Nov. 13 to Nov. 29, is ranked among the top biggest movie festivals in the world, and is the only festival in the Nordic and Baltic regions with International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF) accreditation for holding an international competition programme in the Nordic and Baltic region with 14 other major festivals, such as Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Karlovy Vary, Warsaw, and San Sebastian.
Mansky further found it unusual that no Latvian film has been included in the Riga International Film Festival Section, the festival’s signature programme.
In commenting about the state of Latvian cinematography, Mansky notes that “We see can see how rich Latvian theatre culture is. But when it comes to cinematography, at the moment it is a black hole.”
The Riga International Film Festival Selection film included nine Latvian premieres, among them, the British American co-production, “Amy,” a film on singer Amy Winehouse’s brilliant career and her untimely death, and the Hungarian film, “Son of Saul,” a film which revolves around an Auschwitz inmate who is forced to work at the camp’s crematorium and who assigns a special meaning to the last days of his life by deciding to bury a corpse of a little boy in accordance with Jewish traditions.