There aren't any small or large films. There are short and long films. According to 2ANNAS
Sonora Broka, Film Theorist

Latvia’s season of cinema events traditionally concludes at the beginning of summer with the most youthful of festivals – the 2ANNAS Rīga International Short Film Festival. On the evening of 2 June, the small hall of the Splendid Palace cinema theatre was engulfed by a suggestively beautiful mermaid’s song about lilies and roses. The Glass, Plaster, and Gold Annas had been distributed. Into the darkness faded the row boat, a small flock of yellow ducks and the tangle of cords that had to ensure the successful progression of the 2ANNAS Festival award ceremony. This year the festival marked its 17th year, which is a respectable enough age in the context of Latvian cinema. Short film festivals are forced to fight for their audiences much more actively than other types of film festivals. Though Latvia can in this respect serve as a positive example, as the 2ANNAS have always been loved and, no less importantly, are well attended.

In the festival publicity materials we read that “the 2ANNAS exist in a context in which the short film format is not only a step towards a first full-length feature work, but also an intentional, rational choice, the result of which is a high quality art event”. Proportionally, short films are definitely in the minority out of all the films that I’ve ever watched, so the 2ANNAS served as a compelling experience for gaining a deeper insight into the format. Watching the award-winning films at the finale of the festival, I gave free rein to first impressions and drew a general conclusion that the greater majority of the short films selected by the judges had been created according to the anecdote principle or were also ornate sketches exploiting the aesthetics of the frame, leaving the story in second place or even making do without one at all. The six international competition programmes and the two Baltic competition programmes of the 2ANNAS are, however, irrefutable evidence of the fact that the short film is not a wannabe feature-length film, but rather an autonomous cinema form with its own aesthetic and narrative settings. The 2ANNAS programme curator and festival producer Līva Pētersone describes the independent nature of the short film as follows: “In the same way that cinema allows one to experience a 2-hour segment of another life/reality, the short film does this in 10 or 15 minutes. (..) The short film is the format which first allowed artists to work on avant-garde cinema experiments (for instance the Dadaists and surrealists) which then appeared in mainstream cinema only much later.” The 2ANNAS has found a golden middle ground, in its programme combining both explicitly experimental works as well as cinema oriented towards the public, for whom the short form is often enough an exercise or a challenge, rather than a conceptual choice.
Reinis Pētersons. Poster of shortfilm festival 2ANNAS
Courtesy of the artist
The origins of the festival date back to 1996, when a show of films from the ANNAS 2 children’s and youth studio at the Technical Innovation House took place. In the 1999 statutes of the festival it states that: “One “Anna” reflects the practised and refined part of culture, but the other – the destructive, and for us as yet unknown, part.” Over the years, both the film authors and viewers have grown up along with the festival, and so on the poster created by artist Reinis Pētersons we now see the +16 classification. And even though the quite small 2ANNAS office can still fit into one tiny room of the Technical Innovation House at Annas iela 2, this year’s festival can be considered to lay serious claim to the “professional league”. Several venues (three cinema theatres, as well as individual shows elsewhere), the festival opening in a pool with mermaids, video projections and musical boatmen, two competition shows (international and Baltic), an international jury, the classics of avant-garde cinema (Jonas Mekas’ film programme), a programme dedicated to the centenary of Estonian cinema and a lecture about the history of interactive cinema. In a wonderful way the festival is able to combine, with apparent ease, youthfulness and outrageousness in its visual image and ceremonies with a scrupulously balanced programme, which this year not only put on display striking flashes of films from the vast ocean of international shorts, but also provided hand-picked highlights – European Film Academy film programmes. The 2ANNAS leaves a convincing impression. The small festival team is characterized by an enormous capacity for work and professionalism, as well as great reserves of enthusiasm. One of the keys to the success of the 2ANNAS is also its founder’s and director’s Viesturs Graždanovičs’ openness to everything new, thereby avoiding the situation where a festival begins to stagnate, a captive of its own clichés. There are a number of possibilities for the further development of the festival, of which the safest choice is to consolidate the existing model, as there aren’t any other competitors in this niche festival genre in Latvia. The current 2ANNAS format allows for the development of the educational section and an expansion of the non-competition screenings, in this way achieving more far reaching international resonance.

The central axes of the 2ANNAS are undoubtedly the Baltic and international competitions, which took place for the first time in 2007. The festival awards – the Gold Anna and Plaster Anna – were created by sculptor Aigars Zemītis from a prototype of the Venus de Villendorf. Almost 1,000 films are entered in the 2ANNAS competitions each year.

The 2ANNAS Baltic competition has more of a regional panoramic character. Traditionally, Estonian animators are powerful entrants. The animation films Fly Mill and Breakfast on the Grass confirmed a fact that is already known – that the Estonian animation traditions and aesthetic standards are as high as a baobab tree. Priit Pärn’s students, an infinitely patient division of craftsmen, with their immensely wide-ranging fantasy create a world with absurd but moving rituals.

The international competition show is much more wide-ranging and has also been put together following different principles, searching freely for the most daring ventures in cinema language or the most unusual approach to a story. The films included in the competition leave a comparatively eclectic impression. Here, all in the same place, we find short films which represent classical storytelling – the German Burger Deluxe and Armadingen, the Polish Frozen Stories, as well as the gothically industrial collages of Max Hattler’s (Denmark) animated visions 1923 aka Heaven and 1925 aka Hell, which were created using motifs from the paintings of French spiritualist artist Augustin Lesage. More traditional forms of animation were represented by the British Moxy and the German The Last Match. The work Of This, Men Shall Know Nothing is Fritz Stolberg’s dedication to the pioneer of Dadaism and surrealism, German artist Max Ernst, and it is elements of his painting of the same name that come to life in the film. The cross-genre film Sole is worthy of attention; it is a moving documentary portrait of director Angèle Chiodo’s grandmother and at the same time also a doll animation, which talks about the metamorphoses of the common sole [a type of flatfish] in the process of evolution. The sole, which is simultaneously also a lacy doily or a frozen jelly filled with dolls’ legs, travels around the living room, at times infuriating the elderly lady, however, as the film progresses the grandmother begins to comment, more and more enthusiastically, on the progress in filming, and gets involved in the process as well.

The jury awarded the Grand Prix or Gold Anna to Yuri Ancarani for Il Capo, a film which has already collected a number of Grands Prix as well as other awards in prestigious cinema festivals. A frequently used principle of plot building in short films is the conjuring up of intrigue and an unexpected outcome. These techniques are justifiable in the format, as the short film has to be able to arouse interest in the viewer and also to play out the fable over a limited period of time – equivalent to that which would often be allowed for the credits of a feature-length film. Hence Il Capo, with its dance of heavy construction equipment in a marble quarry brilliantly lit by the sun’s rays and guided by the jerky movements of the work supervisor/conductor, caught my festival trained perception, craving for an unexpected turning point, completely by surprise. While watching the film, only the one thought milled around my mind, “it’s those long, slow scenes, long, slow scenes again, nothing’s happening”. Meanwhile, the slow scene quasi introduction led to an aerial view, looking across snowy scenes of the Alps from a bird’s eye view, or the final scene, which unexpectedly bestowed a scale and sense to everything that had been seen before, making me feel ashamed about my impatient squirming in my chair. The participation of Il Capo, a professionally flawless and symbolically and philosophically multilayered work, in the competition programme basically resulted in an unfair contest, which made the other films look immature. Possibly the proper place for this festival favourite should be in a programme outside the competition, leaving the competition to new names and less well known regions.

The 2ANNAS can be justifiably proud of its cinema showcasing quality standards. The special event of this year’s 2ANNAS was a programme of America’s 1960s avant-garde cinema “big name” Jonas Mekas, shown on 16 mm film. In an era when 35 mm projectors are being replaced by digital ones, 16 mm cinema sessions are like a magical return to the origins of cinema. Just imagine the whirring of the projector and the smell of the heated dust in the beam of light in a small picture theatre, then the few minutes’ pause after each roll of film, as there’s only one projector, and the atmosphere is there. And what an amusing contradiction is hidden in the contrast: avant-garde cinema and a technologically dated, well OK, I’ll be modern and say – vintage cinema format. The films by the independent cinema director and theorist of Lithuanian origin can be seen not only at cinema festivals, but also at art exhibitions, for example, in Lithuania’s pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale, which was dedicated completely to the creative work of Jonas Mekas. In Rīga there were two sessions of the films where one could see cultural icons from the 1960s – Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and George Maciunas, who was the founder of the Fluxus community of independent artists, as well as Salvador Dali. These works are characterized by flamboyant authorship, daring visual solutions, unusually framed shots, the ignoring of classic storytelling principles and at the same time a home video aesthetic, with the free camera and feeling that typifies it. This original combination allows the portraits to retain a special intimacy, engendering a feeling of being present, becoming at the same time a documentation of their time and an example of inimitable avant-garde cinema.

The festival has developed good collaboration with the most important European short film festivals – the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, the Tampere International Short Film Festival, and a number of cinema schools as well. The 2ANNAS programme can also boast the Short Matters! selection of films nominated for the European Film Academy’s Award, which brings together the best short films in Europe for 2011. Up till now Short Matters! has only been shown in a few places in Europe, and it had its Baltic premiere as part of 2ANNAS.

Since 2001, guest lecturers, thematic master classes and discussions have formed an integral part of 2ANNAS events. This year a lecture by the interactive cinema practitioner, educator and researcher Dr Chris Hales was presented as part of the festival, about innovations in cinema technology that have broken down the barriers between the viewer and the co-author, allowing the public to influence the course of a film and its ending. A unique session accompanied the lecture: the first interactive film in the world was shown – Czech director Radúz Činčera’s Kinoautomat (1967), during which the viewers had nine opportunities to dictate the further direction of the film by casting a vote.

The activities of the 2ANNAS are not restricted to the week at the beginning of June. Special film programmes are being created for the larger music festivals of the summer, and in the autumn the activity continues with a travelling cinema project, the 2ANNAS projector.

/Translator into English: Uldis Brūns/
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