Two Latvian films had world premieres in the international competition of the Tribeca Film Festival taking place on 8 – 19 June in New York City, USA. The first screening of January directed by Viestur Kairish took place on 10 June, and on 11 June, Signe Baumane’s full-length animation My Love Affair With Marriage was premiered.
The Tribeca Film Festival has a special place on the film festival scene – it was founded by actor Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and philanthropist Craig Hatkoff in 2002 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of the prestigious Tribeca neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks. Over the years, the Tribeca Film Festival has become one of the most prominent cinema events in the world. Its programme usually includes many brilliant and original films, and this year two of the ten films selected for the International Narrative Competition are by Latvian filmmakers.
On its premiere on 10 June, the feature film January by production company Mistrus Media was presented by director Viestur Kairish, set designer Ieva Jurjāne, star Kārlis Arnolds Avots, producers Inese Boka-Grūbe and Gints Grūbe, executive producers Mārtiņš Eihe and Agate Prozoroviča, and supervising sound editor Jonas Maksvytis (Lithuania). It is a co-production of Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, produced by Mistrus Media together with Staron Film (Poland) and ArtBox (Lithuanian). In Latvia, the film was financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia, the State Culture Capital Foundation, telecommunications company LMT and the European Cinema Support Fund Eurimages.
“The film captivates you from the first shot to the last,” opening the premiere of January, said Frederic Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival. The film has already attracted attention of the US media. Though the film shows events that took place 30 years ago, reviewers stress its topicality. January centres around a group of 18-year-olds who are caught up in the events of January 1991 in Riga. The protagonists have never been involved in any political activities, but circumstances throw them in the centre of political and historic turmoil. “I really remember the society that was fighting for freedom at the same time as my friends were fighting for their individual freedom,” film director Viestur Kairish tells The Messenger’s.
“A movie-crazy Latvian entry, Viesturs Kairiss’s January was my favorite import, a larky, Academy-ratio delve into the January 1991 fight against occupying late-Soviet forces, as seen through the angsty-but-ready-to-rock POV of a film student (Kārlis Arnolds Avots) besotted by Herzog, Jarmusch, and Bergman and abandoned by his first girlfriend. Parties, punk records, first sex, shooting rooftop music videos, getting high, diving into newly forged war zones—it’s a struggling-teen movie with lots of adult ambition and no whining. Depending on what camera the characters are using, Kairiss sometimes shoots them in 8mm and analog video, giving the film a meta-edge that feels both resonant and graceful.” (Michael Atkinson, Village Voice).
“[The film’s] topicality and the midcareer director’s track record should attract programmer interest on the festival circuit,” notes Variety.
“Kairiss evokes the experience of living in ‘90s Latvia where it felt as if there were both no floor but also no ceiling for what was possible on a daily basis. The film has an energy that very much pulls it into the present,” says The Moveablefest.com.
“The script balances well the contrasts between love, cinema and war, interspersing events in a way the story never loses steam,” observes the portal VHS Cut.
January is distributed internationally by the NYC and London based Scandinavian company Yellow Affair. The Latvian premiere is planned this autumn.
On Saturday, 11 June, My Love Affair With Marriage full-length animation film by director and artist Signe Baumane was premiered. Producer Roberts Vinovskis from the production company Lokomotīve and the well-known Latvian-born US actor Laila Robins, who has voiced one of the characters, represented Latvia in NYC.
Producer Roberts Vinovskis shares his impressions about the premiere and tells about the planned festivals, “The plush, Oriental-style auditorium was full, the audience actively followed the characters and events by laughing and clapping. The audience reaction, positive reviews and huge media interest – the week before the premiere, Signe Baumane had an interview marathon that lasted for hours –, shows that the film crosses all geographic borders and language barriers telling a human story about the most important thing – how to love and be loved. Interest from film festivals testifies to the artistic qualities of the film – already on 16 June, the European premiere will take place in the most important animation festival in Annecy, France. My Love Affair With Marriage is one of ten films in the official competition programme of the prestigious festival. Almost simultaneously, on 15 June, another premiere will take place in the largest Latin American film festival in Guadalajara, Mexico. And it’s just the beginning.”
My Love Affair With Marriage is one of the festival films the influential The New York Times recommends its readers. “The unusual animated musical My Love Affair With Marriage turns the usually prosaic stories of youthful romance upside down. The Latvian screenwriter and director Signe Baumane has created an impressionistic world where hand-drawn characters look for true love in three-dimensional settings. The fascinating story combines abundant vitality, sparkling irony and educational content. And if sometimes it seems there is too much of everything, then the only reason is the huge abundance of imagination." (The New York Times)
“The film that is as personal and raw as it is fun and musical. The director mixes traditional animation, stop-motion, physical sets and digital techniques to tell her vision and (some of her experiences) of love, marriage, physiological and other cultural conditions when it comes to being a woman in the former Eastern Europe or, probably, anywhere else in the world. A story full of humor because, as this independent filmmaker born in Latvia and living in New York says, 'if you don't see anything funny in life, you'd better die'.” (Rocio Ayuso, Golden Globe Awards)
“My Love Affair With Marriage plays matchmaker with animation and science. Signe Baumane’s new animated feature employs her raw, incredibly direct and soul baring storytelling in a film about a woman’s huger for love and acceptance, and how the power of biology is a force she must contend with.” (Victoria Davis, Animation World Network)
„Signe Baumane’s masterpiece is the arc of our life. One of 2022's truly great films.” (Steve Kopian, unseenfilms.net)
“An incredibly clever, meaningful watch, so much so that it almost feels like a therapy session for both the director and the viewer.” (Serena Seghedoni, Loud and Clear Reviews)
The full-length animation film for adults My Love Affair With Marriage asks the eternal questions – what is love, how to find and preserve it? Through the relationships of the main character, Zelma, the director explores the emergence of feelings and emotions and the impact of biology on them. There are thirty talking and singing characters in the film, and according to Signe Baumane it is her most ambitious project so far.
The film tells the story of young Zelma’s search for love with the help of the mythic Sirens that tell her to strive for an ideal marriage. However, the whole concept is inevitably shattered when the woman's Biology with its hormones and neuron signals influences her behaviour and emotions, shaking the foundations of marriage. According to the website of the Tribeca Film Festival, some people spend their entire lives wondering why they have failed to maintain a relationship, but Signe Baumane is determined to find an answer. The result is an animation film that combines both ancient mythology and modern neuroscience.
In the Latvian version of the film, Laura Čaupale has lent her voice to Zelma, other parts are voiced by popular Latvian actors - Guna Zariņa, Ģirts Ķesteris, Kaspars Znotiņš, Zane Daudziņa, Regīna Razuma, Madara Botmane, Juris Kalniņš, Katrīna Pasternaka, Edgars Samītis, Dainis Grūbe and others. One of the parts is voiced by singer and songwriter Linda Leen, but the twenty-three songs in the film are sung by female trio Limonāde.
The film is a co-production of Latvian, USA and Luxembourg, financially supported by the National Film Centre of Latvia. Its international distributor is the well-known company New Europe Film Sales, being a factor of quality on its own – this agency selects its catalogue very carefully, and the films it represents are premiered in the best international A class film festivals.