New Riga Meetings platform welcomes projects including two projects by Finnish film-maker Aku Louhimies.

Janis Nords’ second feature Mother I Love You and Juris Kursietis’ debut Modris were the big winners at the ¨Great Christopher¨ (¨Lielais Kristaps¨) National Film Competition held during the first edition of the Riga International Film Festival (December 2-12).

Nords, who graduated in film directing from the UK’s NFTS, received the top honour of best film as well as the trophy for best feature film director and best actress (for Vita Varpina’s performance as the single mother trying to make ends meet).

On presenting the direction prize to Nords, the competition jury’s chairman, veteran film director Janis Streics, said that he saw “a bright future ahead for Latvian cinema” on the strength of the line-up for this edition of the national film awards.

Mother I Love You, which is handled internationally by New Europe Film Sales, premiered at the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus competition in 2013 where it won the international jury’s grand prix. Latvia submitted the film as its national entry for the Academy Awards’ foreign language film category in autumn 2013.

Kursietis, who studied Film Directing and Screenwriting at the Sheffield Hallam Northern Media School, saw his first feature, the Latvian-German-Greek co-production Modris, named  best debut and received the viewers choice award, while Rezija Kalnina picked up the award for best supporting actress.

Speaking to ScreenDaily after the ceremony, Kursietis recalled that Modris had been originally pitched as a project at the Connecting Cottbus co-production market in 2011.The film premiered in Toronto and subsequently screened in Warsaw and Cottbus and, most recently, won the Silver Prometheus Award at last week’s Tbilisi International Film Festival (the Golden Prometheus for Best Film went to The Tribe).

Other awards

Actor Janis Amanis received the best actor award for his performance in Aigars Grauba’s basketball sports film Dream Team 1935 which also garnered the honours for editing and costume design.

The international jury, which also included Latvian producer Bruno Ascuks, Norwegian film expert Jan Erik Holst, and German film critic Jan Schulz-Ojala, presented awards in a total 24 categories, including best minority co-production - to Lithuanian film-maker Ignas Jonynas’ The Gambler, and three distinctions in the categories of  best animation Film, best screenplay and best animation director to New York-based Signe Baumane Latvian-US co-production Rocks In My Pockets, which is Latvia’s Oscar candidate.

At the beginning of the almost three-hour ceremony in the Daile Theatre, veteran Norwegian actress-director Liv Ullman presented two lifetime achievement awards to the husband and wife team Ivars Seleckis and Maija Selecka who, between them, have spent a total of 115 years working in documentary cinemas as a director and DoP (Seleckis) or editor (Selecka)

The national awards are presented every two years, the competition being moved from its previous traditional date in the spring to December in order to be part of this special showcase of Latvian cinema ahead of the European Film Awards ceremony on Saturday evening (December 13).

New festival

The “Great Christopher” Festival’s awards marked the end of the first edition of an attempt by the Latvians at an international film festival in Riga after the demise of the much respected Arsenals Film Forum two years ago.

Festival director Sonora Broka and her team put together a programme of 120 titles including new European cinema, a Nordic film programme for children and youth, evening screenings of such films as Mommy, 3 Hearts and The New Girlfriend and historical retrospectives.

In addition, a connection was made with the parallel held ArtDocFest in Moscow with presentations of films from last year’s and 2014’s editions.

ArtDocFest founder Vitaly Mansky - who had to prepare this year’s festival without any support from the Russian Ministry of Culture because of alleged “anti-state behaviour” - came to Riga to present his latest film Pipeline, along with Ukrainian director Roman Bondarchuk (Euromaidan. Rough Cut) and Meelis Muhu (PMR), among others.

Some of the Q&As after the films were reportedly so intense that the following films’ starting times had to be re-scheduled because the discussions ran over time.

Riga Meetings launches

At the same time, an industry dimension was given to the proceedings with the launching of the Riga Meetings to bring Latvian and European film professionals together with local audiences: the Fipreci organised a conference on ¨Latvian National Cinema in the European Context¨, while public lectures and discussions featured Wim Wenders, Nik Powell, Liv Ullmann and European Film Academy chair Agnieszka Holland, and masterclasses were given by Polish cinematographer Bogumil Godfrejów (Modris), Belgian animators Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, and editor Monica Willi, among others.

Organised by the National Film Centre of Latvia, the Meetings provided the backdrop for a producers’ meeting for presentations of the cash rebate schemes operated by the Riga Film Fund and the Latvian Co-Financing Fund as well as contributions from Latvian producers and service companies on the range of locations and services in Latvia and case studies of foreign productions shot in the country, and pre-arranged one-to-one meetings between producers.

The case studies included Film Angels Studio’s servicing of such recent productions as the South Korean Normandy landing film My Way, Clouds Above The Slope for Japan’s NHK and Hans Steinbichler’s Das Blaue vom Himmel for Germany’s d.i.e. film, and a wind tunnel episode for Jackie Chan’s 2012 film Chinese Zodiac (aka CZ12), while producer Guntis Trekteris of Ego Media spoke about his experiences of working with visiting foreign productions such as Ulla Wagner’s Die Entdeckung der Currywurst, starring Barbara Sukowa, the Indian film Maatran by KV Anand, and re-enactments for Statement Films’ documentary The Man Who Saved The World.

Foreign producers attending the producers’ gathering included Brendan McCarthy (Fantastic Films, Ireland), Rudolf Biermann (In Film, Czech Republic), Evgenia Tirdatova (Kinoglaz, Russia), Alessandro Borrelli (La Sarraz Pictures, Italy), Sam Taylor (F&ME, UK), Julia Ton (Cinatura, The Netherlands), Ilkka Matila (MRP, Finland), Leontine Petit (Lemming Film, The Netherlands), Kaaarle Aho (Making Movies, Finland), Radoslaw Drabik (Gigant Films, Poland), Tomi Salkovski (Skopje Film Studio, FYROM), Ada Solomon (Hi Film, Productions, Romania), and Fyodor Druzin (Curb Denizen, UK).

Over 25 of the Riga Meetings participants were also in town with concrete projects which they were able to present to leading international screenwriters and script doctors as part of the European Script Meeting.

The projects being presented include:

* UK producer David P Kelly’s The Master, based on Jolien Janzing’s bestselling new novel about Charlotte Bronte’s secret love in 19th century Brussels. Kelly, who is one of the co-producers of Vera Glagoleva’s Two Women, starring Ralph Fiennes, acquired the film rights to Janzing’s novel after it was presented at the Berlinale Co-Production Market’s Books at Berlinale showcase in February 2013. 

* Kosovo writer-director Fatos Berisha’s Flying Circus, to be produced by B2 with Croatia’s Mainframe Production and Kosovo’s CMB,

* two projects by Finnish film-maker Aku Louhimies: the €4.5m Bird Catcher, to be produced by US-based Lisa G. Black of Garnet Girl as a co-production with the writing team of Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby; and historical drama The Eternal Road set during the 1930s about a Finnish man’s fight for survival in Soviet Russia in an atmosphere of repression and fear, to be produced by Finland’s MRP,

* the new projects by Juris Kursietis (Olegs) and Janis Nords (Survivalist), to be produced by Alise Gelze and Aija Berzina of Tasse Film, which made its feature production debut this year with Mellow Mud

* Kinoglaz’s Rudolf Nureyev. The Beginning which producer-director Evgenia Tirdatova had previously pitched at the Moscow Business Square in June and is being co-produced by UK-based McCartney Media

* Ruta’s Road, a biopic of the Lithuanian swimmer Ruta Meilutyte who won gold at the London Olympics at the age of 15. Written by Richard Parkin and Allan van OT Andersen, the film is being produced by Rasa Miskinyte’s Vilnius-based Era Film.

* Luke Watson’s €5.2m historical drama The Devil’s Outlaw about Kate Thorne, a wild woman from the 15th century with supernatural powers, to be produced by Kees Kasander’s UK/Dutch-based Cinatura, with Level K as international sales agent.

While there are clearly plans to make the Riga International Film Festival a permanent fixture in the Latvian and international festival calendar and hold it again next year, it remains to be seen whether the Riga Meetings will be reprised in 2015 without the background of the European Film Awards as an additional argument for making a trip to Riga in December.

The organisers will be faced with a particular challenge given the proximity of Tallinn’s Baltic Event co-production market and the Black Nights’ industry programme in neighbouring Estonia just a fortnight beforehand at the end of November.

Riga Briefs

* Russian sales agent Antipode Sales & Distribution has picked up Alexander Melnik’s €11m adventure drama The Territory about discovering gold in the remote Chukotka territory in Russia’s far North-East. Based on the classic novel by Oleg Kuvayev, the film stars Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man) and Konstantin Lavronenko (The Return) heading an ensemble cast of leading Russian actors.

* The documentaries of Sergei Loznitsa can currently be viewed for free in his first online retrospective organised by Doc Alliance Films at its website until Dec 14. The line-up of films also includes an as yet unpublished masterclass Loznitsa gave in spring 2014 on “authenticity and the phenomenon of cinema.” Loznitsa’s In The Fog - which was minority co-produced by Latvia - was nominated in various categories for the “Great Christopher” National Film Festival awards this week.

 * Latvian animation studio Rija Films - who was previously involved in the production of such animation features as Les Triplettes de Belleville and Kirikou et la Sorcière as well as Lotte From Gadgetville, Sergei Loznitsa’s In The Fog and the Latvian-Lithuanian-Luxembour-Danish co-production The Golden Horse - is currently working on animated elements for Peter Greenaway’s new film Eisenstein in Guanajuato. Eisenstein was born in Riga in 1898 in Albert Street, just a stone’s throw away from the venue of the Riga Meetings in the Albert Hotel.