Towns and regions

Riga – Moscow Street

Five film students from Potsdam lived and worked for three months with film students in Riga. Their task was that each one of them should produce a film with these twelve weeks that dealt with the past and present of the Latvian capital.

They were helped in this project by the German director Fred Kelemen. Despite the crises in their making 15 moving and illuminating films emerged at the end. They offer a view of the mood of the country. Just how does the younger generation see the future of Latvia in the year of its accession to the European Union?

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Author: Andrea Horakh
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Latvia, like the rest of the Baltic, has a changeable history. In the 20th century it was occupied many times by both the Soviet Union and Germany. More than a third of its population today still belongs to a Russian minority. In 1991 Latvia, like Estonia and Lithuania, freed it-self from Soviet occupation. 2004 marked another historical step. On the 1st of May Latvia acceded to the European Union. And by doing so made a significant renunciation of Russia and declared an association with the West – the beginning of a new era. An occasion for hope but also for care and anxiety. It had given up its short lived autonomy to become part of another power bloc.

Against this historical background 5 German film students left Potsdam in April 2004 along with award winning film director Fred Kelemen for a three month project in Riga. With thirteen Latvian film students they would create a film workshop. The aim was that each individual student would create a film script from an original idea and produce a film that dealt with Latvia’s past and present history. It could be any form of film; drama, experimental or documentary.

Sponsored by the "Kulturstiftung des Bundes", the "Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung" and the "Robert-Bosch Stiftung" in co-operation with the "Goethe Institut", the seminar had a budget that was big enough to cover the costs of the newest technology and to realise even the most extraordinary ideas.

The starting point for all of the films was Moscow Street in Riga. An axis that runs straight through the city from the Market Hall in the centre to the city limits on the edge. Both famous and notorious as a centre for criminality, drugs, poverty and unemployment. A great proportion of the people there belong to the Russian minority. Before the Holocaust Jews were the main residents.

In the first few weeks the students were writing day and night, throwing ideas about and looking for a creative spark. Later they would suffer from too little shooting time and a cold, wet Latvian summer. No phase of the production was without one crisis or another.

Annett from Potsdam is an example. She was the first to start shooting. With her Latvian cameraman she spent weeks on Moscow Street. Her idea was to observe daily life, chose certain locations and film from various angles at different times of the day and in different light conditions. And something always unexpected happened. They constantly found themselves in tricky situations. Fights happened on camera, they were threatened by gangs of youths. Houses burned down while they were shooting. But Annett and her cameraman were quite at home in it all.

Maija from Riga chose a young boy from the neighbourhood as her main character. And learned something new in the process about her city. Suddenly she saw the street through different eyes.

Liene, a Latvian, had a bitter story to tell based on the tale of Hänsel and Gretel. Two children get lost in a forest. They are fleeing from their parents who are violent Moscow Street alcoholics. They are then caught by a man who locks them up and then fattens them up. At the end of the filming Liene is at the end of her tether but is still proud of what she has achieved.

Just three of the fifteen moving stories. Children and young people play a central role in almost all of the films made by the Latvian students.

And obviously some misunderstandings between the two cultures were unavoidable. But at the end of it all the students were unanimous in their conclusions: they had learned more from this one project than they had in their years as film students. Three of the most intensive months of their lives were now behind them. Some of them had been taken to the limit but 15 exciting films had been produced; emotional declarations, insights of hope, the wishes and concerns of a generation in a country which, once again, finds itself in a state of transition. People from two different countries have learned a lot from each other, experienced much from each other. Friendship and mutual plans for the future have been made. Europe lives. That is the conclusion made by all.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2005