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BALTIC SEA DOCS 2020

Baltic Sea Docs hosts two master classes on documentary production

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- The two conversations saw the participation of prominent Baltic filmmakers Audrius Stonys and Uldis Cekulis

Baltic Sea Docs hosts two master classes on documentary production
Tue Steen Muller and Uldis Cekulis at the Baltic Sea Docs Forum 2020 (© Agnese Zeltiņa)

This year, Baltic Sea Docs (29 August - 4 September) is exceptionally taking place in a hybrid form, mostly running digitally. The event is the leading documentary training and pitching forum in the Baltics and gathers over 100 professional filmmakers from the region, as well as from Eastern and Central Europe, every year. On this occasion, the initiative hosted two master classes, which saw the participation of two prominent Baltic filmmakers, namely Audrius Stonys and Uldis Cekulis. Both master classes were moderated by Tue Steen Müller from Riga.

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The first one took place on 31 August. Stonys, Lithuanian filmmaker and winner of the European Film Academy prize for the best documentary of the year for his short Earth of the Blind (1992), joined the conversation from Lithuania. After showing an excerpt from Bridges of Time [+see also:
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(2018), co-directed with Kristīne Briede, Stonys touched upon the great importance played by the Baltic new wave of documentarians in influencing his work and that of his colleagues from the region. Next, he talked through the making of his short Antigravitation (1995) and his collaboration with Jonas Gricius, veteran Lithuanian cinematographer who, on that occasion, worked on a non-fiction piece for the first time ever. He also explained part of the creative process behind the making of another short, Fyling Over the Blue Fields (1996), co-directed with Jolita Zykute. Initially willing to make a happy film, the documentary turned out to be a piece about “immense loneliness.” Later, he described the special place occupied by Uku Ukai (2006) in his filmography, his “goodbye to 35mm” and the beginning of his collaboration with his trusted DoP Audrius Kemezys. Other works of his filmography covered during the conversation include Ramin (2011), revolving around a 75-year-old Georgian wrestler who once won seven matches in 55 seconds, Cenotaph (2013), the story of a grave under the roots of a big oak, and the mysterious Gates of the Lamb (2014), about the unseen miracle of Baptism and the inexplicable touch of God.

The second conversation took place on the following day. Cekulis is one of the most prolific Latvian producers and founder of Riga-based outfit VFS Films. His firm's latest co-production, The Rossellinis [+see also:
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, will be screened during this year's International Film Critics' Week at Venice. Among the topics discussed during his master class are the research process behind Ugis Olte's Double Aliens (2015), a documentary about the isolated region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, where Georgians and Armenians live together in suppressed hostility, his fieldwork and “school of observation” during the making of Laila Pakalnina's short Theodore (2006), and the efforts behind the financing of Peteris Krilovs' Klucis: The Deconstruction of an Artist (2008), which was initially pitched as an art film, later as a documentary for history slots and, finally, as a love story. The latest strategy proved to be the most successful, creating great interest around the film and allowing Cekulis to secure a pre-sale deal in Italy as well as the involvement of ERT, Greece's pubcaster. In the final stages of the conversation, Cekulis talked through one of his most original projects, Ugis Olte and Morten Traavik's Liberation Day [+see also:
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(2016), which follows the ex-Yugoslavian cult band Laibach, set to become the first foreign rock group ever to perform in North Korea. The film was shot over the course of five days under particularly challenging circumstances.

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