An overview of Kino Rakstu Bibliotēka
Sonora Broka, Film Theorist
Latvian cinema history meets Finnish melodrama
Inga Pērkone, Zane Balčus, Agnese Surkova, Beāta Vītola. Inscenējumu realitāte: Latvijas aktierkino vēsture. Rīga: Mansards, 2011. 600 lpp.: il.
Hercs Franks. Uz sliekšņa atskaties. Rīga: Mansards, 2011. 538 lpp.: il.
The year 2011 was a very fruitful one with respect to the series ‘Kino rakstu bibliotēka’ (‘Library of articles about cinema’) brought out by the publishing house Mansards. The series began in 2009 with Dmitrijs Rancevs’ bilingual compilation of articles ‘Kinotācijas’, and after a break of a couple years, was complemented in 2011 by two new issues – ‘Inscenējumu realitāte. Latvijas aktierkino vēsture’ (‘The Reality of Production. History of Latvian feature film’) and ‘Uz sliekšņa atskaties’ (‘On the threshold, look back’).

The presentation of the book ‘On the threshold, look back’ by Herz Frank, recipient of the Order of Three Stars, distinguished cinema director, cameraman and script writer – took place last autumn, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition Herca Franka kods at the Riga Film Museum. Herz Frank (author of Vecāks par 10 minūtēm (1978) and Augstākā tiesa (1978)), one of the founders of Latvian poetic documentary cinema, celebrated his 85th birthday last year and has already received awards in four countries for his lifetime contribution to cinematography. The Latvian version of the book, which is a translation by the Russian edition, has been complemented with articles of a number of cinema critics and other thinkers (Mihails Jampoļskis, Christoph Hübner, Ilmārs Šlāpins) on Herz Frank’s cinema, as well as the most complete filmography so far, comprising almost 80 films.

Meanwhile a few months earlier, on 4 May, concurrently with a special screening to mark the 70th anniversary of the first Soviet Latvian feature film ‘Kaugurieši’ (1941) at the cinema theatre ‘Rīga’, there was the book opening of a monograph ‘Inscenējumu realitāte. Latvijas aktierkino vēsture’ by Inga Pērkone, Zane Balčus, Agnese Surkova and Beāte Vītola. Along with the adoption of the Film Law in 2010, the publication of this book has been a long-awaited event in Latvian cinematography, because for the first time ever there now is a book that covers the complete history of Latvian cinema, from the pre-war period until the present day. The previous similar such publication ‘Latvijas padomju kinomāksla’ (‘Soviet Latvian Cinema’) was released more than 20 years ago. ‘Inscenējumu realitāte’ is the first survey of the history of cinema in Soviet Latvia addressed to a wide range of readers which is not ideologically biased, thus allowing us to get to know the history from a completely different viewpoint. A comment by Inga Pērkone, author and initiator of the book, when writing about the phenomenon of so-called “shelf films”, is significant in this regard: “If history were to be written on the basis of the rejected or simply the unfilmed, that is, from the aspect of scenarios that were “left on the shelf”, then Latvian cinema would appear to be completely different – far braver, more interesting and diverse.”

‘Inscenējumu realitāte’ has successfully managed to avoid the fate of being specialised literature. The history of cinema is indivisible from Latvian culture, art history, cultural policy and the political situation in Latvia at the time. This book is both a comprehensive source of information and engrossing reading material, as it includes previously unpublished “behind-the-scenes” stories from the halcyon days of Riga Film Studio, when the cinema industry was indeed worthy of the name “industry” (in the early 1970s Riga Film Studio employed 780 people and released 6–7 feature films every year). By using a wide range of sources, Pērkone has been able to carry over an effect of immediacy into the text, to freshen up the occasionally monotonous enumeration of facts by including anecdotal accounts and quoting vivid expressions.

The book reveals who was the first epic hero in Latvian cinema who dared to express emotion – laughter and crying – on screen, how precisely the number of movie theatres and the budget allocated for film production was correlated with the political situation in Latvia, what fantastic metamorphoses the organisations administering the process of film production underwent over the years and how long and complicated was a film’s progress (or occasionally, a dead-end,) from script to screen in Soviet Latvia. Passages of the book let us visit both sides of the screen by combining comprehensive analyses. Zane Balčus’ research on mobile movie theatres in Soviet Latvia inadvertently brings up memories of a film which was included in the programme of the 2006 Arsenāls film festival, namely, ‘Chased by Dreams’ (‘Swapner Din’, 2004) by Indian director Buddhadeb Dasgupta. It was a kind of road movie, wherein the main characters – a driver and a projectionist – passed their days travelling from village to village in a dusty vehicle with a portable film projector on board and demonstrating state-commissioned films dealing with socially relevant themes.

The glossary of film terminology compiled and translated by Agnese Surkova should be mentioned as being extremely valuable. Every film reviewer and student will have longed for this kind of reference. For ease of use, the publication of this chapter as a separate book at some time in the future would be most welcome. The book also contains the most comprehensive and complete Latvian filmography ever compiled.

This year the series ‘Library of articles about cinema’ will be complemented by the memoirs of Teuvo Tulio (1912–2000), the Finnish director of Latvian origin. Apart from a dedicated programme within the framework of the 2002 Arsenāls film festival, and several individual activities organised by the Embassy of Finland and the Riga Film Museum, this director has remained largely unknown to the Latvian public.

Tulio was born Teodors Derožinskis-Tugajs and lived in Latgale (near the town of Rēzekne) until the age of ten. After moving to Finland, he first made his debut as an actor. Owing to his appearance, he was referred to as “the Finnish Valentino”. When Teodors Tugajs became a director (all of his 16 films, except for one, are melodramas), he changed his name to Teuvo Tulio (tuli means ‘fire’ in Finnish), which perfectly characterises his unique, sensuous manner of directing. However, the last of his films ‘Sensuela’ (1972) fell into disfavour with the censorship and hence was almost never shown. However, over the past ten years Tulio’s cinematic heritage has been enjoying a revival and has gained widespread acclaim among cinema experts. The most famous contemporary Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki has publicly acknowledged Tulio as the most outstanding master of melodrama in film history, and his film ‘Juha’ is a tribute to him. Given this background, the memoirs of Tulio are particularly intriguing, because they will provide an opportunity to get to know, first-hand, the story of the greatest master of Finnish melodrama who was of Turkish-Latgalian origin (and had a very exotic appearance): about his childhood spent in Makašāni village in the Rēzekne area, about his career as an actor, about his work in film which, in turn, was capped by a period of obscurity. The director’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated in 2012, both in Finland and Latvia, and in addition to the publication of the book there will be the premiere of a documentary film about his life and work.

/Translator into English: Jānis Aniņš/
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