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German filmmaker sees Ventspils through new lense

  • 2004-09-01
  • By Jeremy Gragert
It's a sad fact that few films get made in Latvia, and those that do mostly have a very limited shelf life in the nation's handful of cinemas. "767" was one of the few films made in the country this year, but as an entirely independent project. The film, which was made in Ventspils, premiered this summer at the Ventspils Castle before a capacity crowd of 200 people and attracted a lot of local interest.

"767" was directed, produced and financed by Hoyer Dirk, a 30-year-old Bosch scholar from Braunschweig, Germany. Having long had a love affair with film, Baltic cinema is a whole new territory for him.

The director brought his interest in filmmaking to Latvia after studying communications in Berlin, Paris, and at the University of Helsinki. For the past two years, Hoyer has been teaching history, politics and media on a Bosch scholarship at the University of Ventspils. And it is this picturesque seaside town that would soon become the setting of his first Baltic film.

During his two years in Ventspils, Hoyer came across dozens of people - many of whom were his students - interested in working on the film. Ultimately it came down to a core group of six. These were the ones willing to commit considerable time and energy to a full-length film on a minimal budget. They were enthusiasts to the end.

"767," which stars Inese Bartuce and Armands Akmens, is a mixture of drama and thriller. The story follows JK, a young musician and singer whose career is heading downhill. The film cleverly uses the protagonist's female stalker to hint at a dark secret from his more successful past.

The 73-minute black-and-white film - which was written and filmed in German by University of Ventspils students studying the language - was shot in locations that ranged from Venstpils to Liepaja, Tallinn, and even the small Latvian town of Talsi. The production team included people from as far away as Estonia.

It was Hoyer's students, however, who contributed the most. The director spent hours digitally editing "767" with 18-year-old Stefans Bagienskis, the film's cameraman. One of the few nonstudents, Bagienskis was filming for a local television station in Ventspils.

The film's production manager, 19-year-old Liene Puzule, studies German-Latvian translation at the university. Like most of the students participating in "767," Puzule has much respect and hope for film in Latvia.

"I am aware that people are making films," says Puzule, "and after some years it [filmmaking in Latvia] will grow."

Hoyer agrees, adding that although Latvia has plenty of people with cinematic ideas, there is little funding available. Latvians, he says, have to take the initiative and produce films without much funding. In fact Hoyer produced "767" entirely from his own pocket.

"Our film is just a grassroots sort of thing," he explains. "We don't mean to boost the Latvian film industry. I don't mean to be that pretentious."

Hoyer argues that filmmaking is a fundamental means of understanding the media around us. Although all of us consume the media on a daily basis, according to Hoyer, we fail to produce and critically analyze it.

"Cinema is a wider form of cultural expression," he says.

Currently teaching communications, audio/visual production and broadcast writing at Stradins University in Riga, Hoyer has plans for a new movie, this one based in Riga. The film will be an adaptation of a short story by German writer Judith Hermann entitled "Summerhouse Later" (Ecco, 2002).

According to Hoyer, it will be given more of a Baltic context as a film-noir love story that highlights the clash between foreigners and natives in Latvia. Hoyer hopes to begin filming the English language film, which will have Latvian subtitles, in January 2005. Several members of his previous production team, including Bagienskis, will join the director in his new project.

Hoyer will begin casting for his next film in November, with filming tentatively set to begin in January 2005. He is currently looking for English speakers interested in acting and/or participating with the new project. If interested, please contact Hoyer at: d.hoyer@mailcity.com
 

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