Film Festival Riga rises from the ashes

  • 2012-09-05
  • By Laurence Boyce

SILVER SCREEN: The film festival will be showing some of the best new films from Europe.

RIGA - A new film festival comes into view, to replace the late and lamented “Arsenals – International Film Festival Riga.”
Arsenals – International Film Festival Riga had long been a highlight of the festival season in the Baltics. One of the first festivals to come out of the former Soviet Union, the festival had been typified by interesting programming choices and a quirky atmosphere. It managed to champion Baltic cinema and also ask questions about how works of art are judged and discussed (the winner of the International Competition was not selected by a jury – instead, attending filmmakers were given a glass of Black Balsam with the winner being the one who found a token at the bottom of their drink). Yet, despite its massive popularity, the festival was forced to shut its doors earlier this year due to funding problems and rumors of turmoil behind the scenes. Even a mass petition could not persuade the Latvian government to step in and save the festival. But all good ideas never truly die and the FF Riga has now come into existence to honor the spirit of Arsenals and carve its own identity on the festival circuit.

FF Riga (which has a double meaning as both “Festivals for Riga” and “Films for Riga”) has avoided any issue of financial difficulties by not having a budget in the first place. Instead, a number of festivals and organizations have stepped forward to take responsibility for screening films from their respective countries. Amongst them are the Warsaw Film Festival, Helsinki Film Festival Love & Anarchy and Estonia’s own Black Nights Film Festival. This show of support from other film organizations across Europe shows not only what a gap Arsenals has left in the schedule, but also just how important it is for festivals and institutions to work together at a time when cultural funding is, at best, uncertain and, at worst, completely dismissed by the higher-ups in government.

Taking place from Sept. 10-12 (during the same time that “Arsenals” was originally scheduled to take place, FF Riga will hold competition screenings at the K Suns cinema in Riga. The festival has included seven films suggested by other European festivals, as well as a film produced by Russian documentary filmmaker Marina Razbezhkina and a film by Latvian filmmaker Yevgeni Pashkevich (both of whom have also supported the film festival).

Highlights include the Estonian film “Mushrooming,” a dark comedy that was a recent success at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. The film tells the story of Aadu Kagu, a politician who, while going mushroom picking in the woods with reluctant hitchhiker Zak, manages to get hopelessly lost. For his party back home, it’s a blessing in disguise as Kagu has been discovered to be fiddling with his expenses. With swathes of satire, physical humor and drama, it’s an intelligent and clever film. Local audiences will also appreciate “Gulf Stream under the Iceberg” from Latvian filmmaker Yevgeny Pashkevich, which takes a metaphorical look at life, which was inspired by the works of Anatole France. Other films screening include the Austrian film “Whore’s Glory,” the intriguing Czech film “Flower Buds” and the powerful Polish WWII drama “Rose.”

It promises to be an event full of surprises and those who want to support film events in the Baltics are urged to go and see what they can and enjoy not only local cinema, but some of the best new films from Europe. “Arsenals” may have suffered an ignoble end, but the future of film festivals and screening in Latvia and the Baltics still looks positive.

For additional information on films and show times please visit: