Dita Rietuma, director of the National Film Centre of Latvia, spoke on the sidelines of the Habitat International Film Festival about showcasing Latvian cinema and the importance of festivals in promoting cinemas of the world.
'Festivals provide a platform to show films to an audience that is ready to be provoked'
New Delhi - 19 Apr 2018 6:00 IST
Dita Rietuma, director of the National Film Centre of Latvia, who visited New Delhi to participate in the Habitat International Film Festival last month, has been engaged in showcasing Latvian cinema across the world and promoting film production in her country.
During her tenure, film production in Latvia has increased considerably and the celebrations marking the centenary of the Republic of Latvia (established in 1918) have given it a further boost.
The films produced in the framework of a special centenary programme were received well by the audience and a special package of Latvian films was screened in New Delhi.
The programme of Latvian films in New Delhi was presented in two parts. It started with Firstborn, a contemporary thriller by director Aik Karapetian, and was followed by the documentary Blueberry Spirits by Astra Zoldnere.
Thereafter, five more Latvian features were showcased at the India Habitat Centre as part of the Habitat International Film Festival 2018. They represent different dimensions of Latvian history and include historical blockbusters as well as contemporary stories.
In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, Rietuma spoke about bringing Latvian cinema to India and the opportunities provided by film festivals across the world. Excerpts:
This year marks the centenary of Latvia's independence, an event that you are celebrating through film, amongst other mediums. Is your being here for this festival a part of kickstarting the celebration?
Definitely, because this year we have more opportunities to travel, thanks to extra support from our government, to show our films abroad. We can say this is the beginning of the international celebration of our centenary. And thanks to our centenary, we have managed to boost our film production. We are producing many more full-length films and have doubled the production thanks to the centenary.
We also have a special programme, Latvia 100, and so the centenary is very good for the film industry because we have got more government funds, and nearly all Latvian films are made with state money. So, the National Film Centre, where I work, distributes this money through different competitions to Latvian filmmakers and they make films with these grants. This is our main job — to finance Latvian movies.
Of course, we are doing other things like promoting Latvian cinema abroad, dealing with heritage, etc, but we are also producing movies by giving out grants to independent film companies.
Before Firstborn, directed by Aik Karapetian, I had not seen a Latvian film, so I had no exposure to your cinema. And while Asian cinema has travelled around the world and many Asian filmmakers have become well known worldwide, in India we haven't had that kind of exposure to Latvian cinema, and I'm sure this is something the National Film Centre is trying to address.
Definitely. Our centenary will focus more attention on our film industry and we will have more possibilities to travel and to show our films around.
Unfortunately, the Latvian film industry is quite small and I'm not sure if we have had any Latvian film in distribution in India, but festivals are a very important platform for European films, for arthouse films from all over the world, and films can travel through festivals.
This festival [at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi] also is an example of a very good platform, through which there is a possibility to watch a lot of European movies which, I believe, will never get distribution for a wider audience because these are films for a niche audience, for people who are ready to be provoked, who are ready to enter some strange and scary places.
What is the exposure in Latvia to our cinema?
To be honest it's less than minimal… none, unfortunately. Of course, we also have our festivals, and our international festivals sometimes have some Indian films in the programme, but it's the same story. The festivals are a very important platform also for us in Riga to get some films from, let's say, Asia, because in normal distribution we do not get to see such films.
The only chance to get films from China, South Korea or India is if the film has already been noticed somewhere in northern Europe or, say, at the Cannes film festival. If the film is the winner at Cannes, then it will travel, but if the film is not noticed somewhere in Europe, it will never come. This is why festivals are important, because they can pick films for some screenings and they can get some audience.
We are talking about the importance of festivals, but it's getting harder for festivals to get funding unless supported by the state or some committed private organization. Are the festivals in Latvia organized by the government?
We do not have a government festival, but the majority of the funds for organizing our festivals comes from the government. The government is not an organizer, but if you are the owner of the brand of the festival, you can compete for different grants. But the story about fighting for funds is everywhere, it is the same.
Yes, we seem to be talking about the importance of film festivals, but in the same breath we are saying there is a dearth of funds and this is the case for film festivals in particular but also for the arts in general.
In the European Union (EU), there is the possibility of getting money from European grants, so maybe for European countries it's easier, and we are a member of the EU and our organizers of film festivals, for example, the Riga International Film Festival gets its money from our ministry of culture, but it can also get some money from European funds, so maybe it is easier for EU countries.
Of course, the biggest festivals in Europe — Cannes, Berlin — they get enormous amounts of money from their governments.
But France is a different case altogether.
Yes, anyway it's a lot of money, many millions of euros, so our festivals don't have such large amounts of money, they are also scratching bits together.
So, what has your experience been like in India?
I am very impressed to see that the city has changed, because I was in Delhi for two days 10 years ago, so that was another city altogether — it's much cleaner now and the city is much more modern. Ten years ago, it was impossible to get an internet connection. If you went with your passport, you would get to a café and try to get a connection. So, this is another India. I am very excited, so I will be back here.