Discovering Latvia’s Potential: Co-production and Service Opportunities

Accessibility, convenience, professionalism of local film crews, and low risk – this is how foreign producers describe the filmmaking opportunities in Latvia.

This view of the filmmaking process in Latvia can actually be empirically verified and has become even more true in 2017, when a great number of co-financed projects were implemented in Latvia. In fact, two films recently filmed in Latvia (co-financed by the National Film Centre of Latvia and using the services provided by Film Angels Studio) premiered at the Cannes Film Festival: Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature in the In Competition section and György Kristóf’s Out in the Un Certain Regard section.

The available co-funding in Latvia has remained stable at approximately EUR 2.5 million, when taking together the resources of the National Film Centre and the Riga Film Fund. However, considering that nowadays nearly all European countries offer co-funding modules for foreign film productions, it’s clear that the availability of financial resources (up to 25% of a film’s production expenditures accrued in Latvia) is not the most important factor in making decisions. So why do project leaders return and confidently state that they want to film again in Latvia? The producers from Film Angels Studio and Tasse Film, the two studios most actively involved in European projects in Latvia in 2017, explain why. They begin by saying that the expectations of foreign filmmakers working in Latvia for the first time are often exceeded – they are frequently surprised by the professionalism of local crews and the reasonable costs in the country.

Keeping up with the work

Aija Bērziņa and Alise Ģelze, the producers at Tasse Film, stress the great variety of locations available in Latvia as one significant aspect of foreign projects’ interest in the county. “Riga has a very well-conserved and authentic historical environment. Furthermore, the city has a certain Nordic flair, and in many places the architecture looks quite Scandinavian,” says Bērziņa.

Together with Ģelze, her co-owner at Tasse Film, Bērziņa produced the coming-of-age drama Mellow Mud (directed by Renārs Vimba), which won a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale in the Generation 14 competition in 2016. Currently, the two young women are not only helping local film directors make their ideas come true; they are also actively involved in foreign film projects being filmed in Latvia. They have had a busy autumn – between September and November they were involved in three nearly consecutive film productions.

When asked how a comparatively small company like Tasse Film manages such a large work load, Bērziņa and Ģelze explain that they’ve refined their working procedures and develop a precise schedule for each project, which ensures that things move forward smoothly, quickly and independently. They also point out that it is easy to get all the required administrative permits, which facilitates the process. In addition, neither Riga nor other locations in Latvia are overloaded with film crews, as is sometimes the case in other European capitals and can lead to delays in filming.

Small country, great choice

Although covering only an area of just under 65,000 square kilometres, Latvia offers a range of diverse environments that have been “left behind” by various different foreign powers over the centuries. Here one can easily find the right filming location for a variety of moods and historical eras. For example, film crews from neighbouring Russia and projects involving storylines placed in a (post)socialism setting often choose Latvia because of its Soviet architectural heritage.

Recently Tasse Film was involved in the filming of The Humorist (a co-production between Russia’s Metrafilms, Czech Republic’s Sirena Film and Tasse Film) in the Latvian resort town of Jūrmala. Journalist Michael Idov’s debut as a film director is an autobiographical tale set in Jūrmala in the mid-1980s and tells about a Soviet comedian and the decline of his career. Though Jūrmala has kept up with the times, it still possesses an air of the past, from the wooden architecture typical of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the Dubulti railway station, which is a distinctive example of 1970s modernism. The sites reminiscent of Jūrmala’s time as a Soviet-era seaside resort also offer intriguing filming locations.

The Sonata – a supernatural thriller directed by Andrew Desmond that is a co-production between France’s The Project, Great Britain’s Featuristic Films, Russia’s CTB Film Company and Tasse Film – also recently explored Latvia’s potential for historical locations. It was shot in various locations all over the country, including castles in varying states of preservation from the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Gothic eras. It is noteworthy that the production of The Sonata included a number of renowned local professionals, for example, cinematographer Jānis Eglītis and costume designer Rolands Pēterkops (MAREUNROL’S).

The third foreign production Tasse Film was involved in this year is Czech director Michal Hogenauer’s relationship drama Outside (a co-production between Czech Republic’s Negativ Film Productions, the Netherlands’ Circe Films and Tasse Film). Latvian artist Laura Dišlere was also a part of the production team. Bērziņa and Ģelze stress that it is important to them to be part of the creative processes of film projects. Both participate also as co-producers and evaluate potential cooperation projects carefully, taking into consideration their artistic qualities and potential to appeal to audiences.

Professionals to come back to

Carine Leblanc (a producer at France’s Slot Machine) and Gunnar Dedio (a producer at Germany’s LOOKS Film & TV) also stress the high standards of local Latvian producers. Leblanc and Dedio previously worked with the experienced Latvian production company Film Angels Studio (established in 2002) while shooting Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature in the Daugavpils area. They recently returned to Latvia to film the TV series Age of Iron, which tells about the Thirty Years’ War, one of the most destructive conflicts in European history. When meeting them on Day 15 of the 20 days they had allocated for filming in the iconic Riga Cathedral, the producers told me that, as when making their first film here, they were pleasantly surprised by the Latvian team’s professionalism and efficiency. “People here do things without verbosity, everybody knows the task entrusted to them,” said Leblanc.

Their successful previous cooperation and the positive dynamic they experienced in Latvia were a significant factor in the producers’ return to Latvia for filming. If companies like Slot Machine and LOOKS Film & TV, whose wide scope of work, regular international activity and filmography are well recognised in venues such as Cannes, come back to Latvia for their productions, that is a strong indicator of the high level of quality of the services available here. Thus the small Baltic country’s competitiveness on a European level increases from year to year.

Returning to Age of Iron – of course, the availability of locations appropriate for a 17th-century setting played an important role when selecting Latvia. Leblanc and Dedio say, only half-jokingly, that the unrenovated state of some historical buildings plays right into the hands of the film’s artistic needs and authenticity. Dedio points out another advantage: much shorter distances between filming locations than elsewhere in Europe. Within half an hour one can get to very diverse locations, or, for example, to the airport.

Both producers express their interest in returning to Latvia with a new project. However, they believe that the creation of a co-financing fund could further increase interest from abroad (currently the National Film Centre supports minority co-productions with EUR 300,000 annually). Dedio also believes that visibility would be further increased if Latvian partners put forward more cooperation projects in which the story actually takes place in Latvia. This would complement the current practice, in which Latvian locations are used to replicate other European landscapes and architecture.

Ready for more

Tasse Film’s Aija Bērziņa and Alise Ģelze are convinced that Latvian cinema professionals have the capacity to deal with an influx of foreign projects while ensuring the same level of quality and efficiency of services. They elaborate that the available infrastructure is most suited for European projects – both films and TV series, which has become a very promising genre. Film Angels Studio’s producer Jānis Kalējs agrees that at this stage it is not yet realistic to ensure the infrastructure and services required for large-scale Hollywood productions. At the same time, it should be mentioned that a number of substantial non-European projects have recently chosen to film in Latvia and use the services of Film Angels Studio, for example, the Chinese production Chinese Zodiac and the South Korean film My Way.

Representatives of both Latvian studios share the view that the professionalism and competence of local teams increases noticeably with each project, thus expanding the range of available professionals. Latvia’s centenary film programme also contributes to an increase of human resources. A total of 16 cinematic works are being produced in the framework of this programme, including two feature-length animation films, which is a previously unexperienced level of production in Latvian film history. As part of the production process, new on-set professionals and animators are being trained, which will further increase Latvia’s capacity to work with local and foreign cooperation projects.


 

Funding resources available for foreign film productions in Latvia:

Total amount of co-funding from the Latvian state and support from the Riga Film Fund: approximately EUR 2.5 million; applications for co-funding can be submitted all year long.

Main criteria for granting co-financing:

  • the film is fully or partly made in Latvia;
  • services of Latvian-registered persons and legal entities are used in the making of the film;
  • total expenditures are at least EUR 700,000 for feature or animated films and at least EUR 140,000 for documentary films;
  • on the day of submitting the project application, the foreign producer can show funding for at least 50% of the film’s total projected costs;
  • co-financing cannot exceed 25% of the total costs;
  • films (including animation and documentary films) are intended to be shown in cinemas or on television.

Support for minority co-production films

(administered by the National Film Centre of Latvia):

Total amount available: EUR 300,000

  • Tenders are held once a year in May.
  • For a bilateral co-production, the financial investment of the Latvian side must be at least 20%, for multilateral co-productions it must be at least 10%.

Useful information:

Information about co-financing from the Latvian state: filmlatvia.lv

National Film Centre of Latvia: nkc.gov.lv

Riga Film Fund: filmriga.lv


 

A selection of films and TV series filmed in Latvia:

Invincible (2001) – director: Werner Herzog; Latvian producer: Jānis Vingris, EHO Filma

Honey Baby (2004) – director: Mika Kaurismäki; Latvian producer: Jānis Vingris, EHO Filma

Wallander. “The Dogs of Riga” (2012) – director: Esther May Campbell; Latvian producer: Sergei Serpuhov, Baltic Pine Films

In the Fog (2012) – director: Sergei Loznitsa; Latvian producer: Vilnis Kalnaellis, Rija Films

The Man Who Saved the World (2014) – director: Peter Anthony; Latvian producer: Guntis Trekteris, Ego Media

A Gentle Creature (2017) – director: Sergei Loznitsa; Latvian producer: Jānis Kalējs, Film Angels Studio

Out (2017) – director: György Kristóf; Latvian producer: Ivo Ceplevičs, Film Angels Studio


Text by Kristīne Simsone