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REYKJAVIK 2018 Industry

Reykjavik zooms in on the Baltic states

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- Three Baltic countries enjoyed a special focus at this year’s Reykjavik International Film Festival, on the occasion of the centenary of their independence

Reykjavik zooms in on the Baltic states
Soviet Hippies by Terje Toomistu

In 1991, Iceland was memorably the first country to officially recognise the new independence of the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s only fitting that this year, on the 100th anniversary of the independence of all three, the Reykjavik International Film Festival opted to dedicate a focus to Baltic cinema.

The In Focus: Baltic States programme seemed to set its sights on bridging the gap between different generations of filmmakers. Interestingly enough, the programme avoided full-length fiction films, instead opting to have four poignant full-length documentaries spearheading the focus. All of these deal with different time periods and places. The Estonian effort Soviet Hippies by Terje Toomistu draws our attention to the underground hippie movement in the Soviet Union, where it was essentially illegal to have clothes, hair and musical taste that tied in with the Western subculture. Latvian director Davis Simanis’ self-reflective D Is for Division [+see also:
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 analyses the tumultuous relations between Latvia and the USSR through the border between the two countries, as well as its elusive essence and transformative nature. Another Estonian documentary, Rodeo by Raimo Jõerand and Kiur Aarma, brings us a more specific moment in time, when the first government of the newly formed Republic of Estonia was founded in 1992 by a bunch of young, hot-headed politicians who started to build and run a state in complete DIY mode. A Lithuanian documentarian with a background in art, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, brings the discussion to the present day with her haunting Acid Forest [+see also:
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, which shows an area of forest destroyed by cormorants as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, echoing environmentalist themes but from a completely unexpected angle. 

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The old guard was represented by the legendary Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born New York artist, documentarian and avant-garde filmmaker who made amateur art cinema seem cool in art circles in the 1960s. Mekas’ oeuvre was represented by eight films, including the four-and-a-half-hour-long Lithuania and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Baltic poetic documentary genre that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union was spearheaded by Laila Pakalniņa, whose six documentaries of varying length were shown in two screenings, accompanied by her master class “The Observational Cinema of Laila Pakalniņa”. 

This anniversary year has brought Baltic cinema some well-deserved attention. Attendance levels for domestic films are soaring, and various high-profile special programmes at prestigious festivals such as Karlovy Vary, Annecy and Reykjavik, amongst others, have shown that the Baltic countries have more than enough material to offer, both from the past and in the present day. Only the future will show whether the three countries can hit the ground running and continue this hot streak at home and abroad, when the elevated annual film budgets go back to normal after the centenary.

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