Making Films in Latvia: Producers’ Challenges

By Antra Cilinska

© Antra Cilinska, 2012

If we speak about making films in Latvia, there is always room for the famous question: “To make, or not to make?” But if you are a devoted filmmaker, you just cannot imagine life without it. At the same time, you are aware of all the consequences as soon as you fall in love with a certain project and decide to produce it. The strangest thing is that any producer anywhere will say the same thing. That means that we are not aliens, and this helps to move ahead and be creative to make projects happen in Latvia.

Latvia is the central country of the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and is located on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. Its 500 km of sandy beaches are easily reached from the historical towns, where medieval Hanseatic foundations support baroque and art nouveau buildings.

Latvia went through big changes in the film industry following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The shift to a market economy affected every level of the film industry, from the basic infrastructure to the mode of financing and administration. The pattern of changes was similar throughout all East European countries: a sharp decrease in state funding, empty studios looking to attract foreign crews, the disappearance of domestic films from the circuits, armies of idle film professionals, and the redefinition of concepts like “copyright,” “entertainment,” and “audience.” Reflecting on the situation of Soviet and Eastern European film-makers in 1990, Graham Petrie and Ruth Dwyer (1990: 5) asked: “Is there any place any longer, even in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, for films that put artistic requirements ahead of commercial ones? All these countries, and even the Soviet Union, needed desperately to sell their films abroad if their industries are to survive.” This was absolutely true, and still is. For twenty years Latvia has tried to say that its filmmakers can make films  and want to do so.

The first independent film studios in Latvia appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s; before, all film production was located at the local state film studio and state television. The first film studios were founded by film directors or, in individual cases, other creative or technical staff, without any (or with minimal) experience in film production and company management under conditions of a market economy. As time passed, people perfected their knowledge and established relationships with film studios and professionals abroad. Consequently, in all of the Baltic States several leading film studios were established and operate up to now. During the last twenty years they have completed full-length feature, documentary and animation film projects, as well as creating a number of short films and other audiovisual media projects. Mostly these are studios which actively participate in co-production of films and provide production services to foreign projects.

Simultaneously, several film studios operate in Latvia, which can still be regarded as “one man’sstudios,” i.e. the studio is run by its owner who is a producer, director and often performs other functions as well. During the last five years most of these studios have carried out only one full-length feature film project, which is often the only source of the studio’s income. Bigger funding not only allows the production of more films but also increases the number of film studios involved in production, including those studios, which—during the last five years—have produced only one full-length film.

So, what are the options for a producer in Latvia? Firstly—national support, which is available through applications, once or twice a year, to the National Film Centre, and three or four times a year to the Culture Capital Fund. The rest is up to the knowledge and creativity of the producer: attraction of all sorts of investment (including your own capital), and looking for cooperation internationally.

If we look for support from and cooperation with television stations, there are not many possibilities financially. In all of the Baltic States national TV channels offer full-cycle film production services, but mostly these resources are used for making of their own TV products. Still, several projects have been carried out in Latvia in co-operation with state TV channel or the other two commercial channels. With the appearance of various new digital platforms there is potential for an increase in new business models between film producers and these new digital TV stations. Latvian TV is a great support for film projects in all other ways than finances, e.g. letters of support for Media Development applications, promotion of Latvian films with support from the National Film Centre, and son on.

During the last decade the number of co-production projects in Latvia has increased. This is connected with several factors: creative co-production, the availability of Media and EURIMAGE funding, the possibility to participate in various international forums, meetings and festivals. Latvia has joined EURIMAGE in 2001 and MEDIA Plus in 2002. The policy of the National Film Centre is to support co-productions, which makes collaboration with Latvian filmmakers very welcome.

The globalization of film production ensures income not only to local studios, which render film production services, but also creates added value in the export of services provided by the country. Riga Film Fund has launched a new filming incentive scheme that will entitle eligible productions to a rebate of up to 15 per cent. Productions spending at least EUR700,000 may become eligible for support when half of their funding has been confirmed. Features, television films and documentaries that use Riga as location can claim the full 15%, while a reduced 13 per cent rebate may be available if the main cast and crew are Latvian nationals. Qualifying productions that double Riga for elsewhere in the world will be entitled to a 10% rebate, while projects filming in Latvia, but using the services of a company based in Riga, will have access to a 7 per cent rebate.

It is advantageous to shoot in Riga because the costs of location rent are low, only few locations require additional rent payments, permits can be obtained within 24 hours, and numerous locations resemble places in other European countries (e.g. stadiums, churches, mansions etc.), numerous places have never been filmed and may become a refreshing novelty for audiences around the world: management here is flexible and fast. A great variety of architecture, castles, churches, airports, towns and villages, fountains, lighthouses, manors, factories, castle mounds, garrets, mills, exterior design is available in Latvia. Lots of professional filmmakers who have gained high approval in international film festivals are open for cooperation.

Let us look at some figures on finances, which is a very important part of making a film project happen. Here are the figures of the National State support for the film industry from 2007-2011.

Year

National Film Centre (EUR)

Culture Capital Fund (LVL)

TOTAL (EUR)

2011

1 515 381

342 924

1 858 305

2010

1 515 381

370 425

1 885 807

2009

2 519 158

656 915

3 176 073

2008

4 614 476

1 527 676

6 142 152

2007

2 219 957

1 511 098

3 731 055

As a character in my film Is It Easy…? After 20 Years said: “There was business until 2008, and something completely different after that.” We can see this also from the Latvian film support figures. The money available for film productions is very limited, but nevertheless, the figures show that films can be made even with the funding available. In 2010 3 feature films, 3 shorts, 10 animations and 19 documentaries were released. It took much longer for these films to be completed because producers had to wait in the line for the money.

In summary, the state budget is still a very important part of production funds. Some studios have managed to adjust to the numerous changes successfully and have been participating actively in co-production projects and rendering production services to foreign film productions, thus providing not only bigger budget for their film projects, but also reaching a larger potential audience and possibilities to participate in film festivals. But this means that we need more support to become better partners in international co-productions.

One might look at the development of the animation industry in Latvia. Since the beginning of the 1990s private animation studios have been founded, following the historical traditions, alongside several new studios. Most of the animation studios in the Baltic States produce their own animated films, as well as co-produce internationally and participating in co-production projects. In Latvia mainly short animated films are made, which are widely represented at international film festivals of different levels, and they receive significant awards at festivals. However, over recent years several full-lengths animated films have been produced, several of them as co-productions with different countries. Latvian documentaries have also achieved wide recognition on an international level, starting from Cannes to Hot Docs, IDFA and many others.

Nevertheless, there are several problems that hinder the development of the industry, such as insufficient state funding, which cannot fully finance co-production projects, overly fragmented usage of the funding, poor cooperation among TV channels and film studios, lack of professional producers and managers, and so on.

So, in conclusion I would say: if you are a really devoted producer, you will manage to make  a good film even in Latvia!


Works Cited

Petrie, Graham and Ruth Dwyer (1990), Before the wall came down, Lanham: University Press of America

Updated: 09 Jun 12