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What is the Future for Animated Films in Latvia?
Lotte from Gadgetville is a very good example of how an animation film can be completed by developing partnerships between smaller countries to realise a large project.
The Estonian studio Jooisfilm, which has 30 years experience in animation, and also is the production company where the nucleus of Estonian animation has been based, together with the Latvian film production company Rija Films, could realize very important projects. That's why the production of Lotte took only two years instead of the normal five or six years. This co-production partnership offered a greater variety of financial possibilities for funding and also allowed Latvia to become the member of Eurimage. It also made it easier to find money for production in Latvia.
The strong author's approaches, like in Dentist by Signe Baumane – a 10' funny and scary film, demonstrating the power of a good story and excellent artist's work – pushed me to find some answers to questions I would liked to ask on one hand from an artist (in this case the animator) and a producer.
In the first place, I asked:
How is it that the production of small countries can resist the powerful and wealthy American Machine?
Roze Stiebra, pioneer animator and producer at Dauka Animated Film Studio replied: "The U.S. style of animation is not necessarily a good thing. We believe it is possible to do something else, to use stories and a style inspired by our own national culture. At the moment distributors are trying to force their beliefs of creating work along the US model] onto filmmakers. This isn't necessarily what the audience wants but distributors are trying to create a sort of hegemony. If the artists are honest they can break this vicious circle and the state of animation here would improve.
Vilnis Kalnaelli, managing director of Rija Films and producer of Lotte of Gadgetville, says: "With commercial films like Shrek , American studios are making a lot of money. Spain and Italy are following this model in a bid to create commercial hits. The French animation The Triplets of Belleville is a very good example of how you can create original product that can fight against the almighty commercial machines of the U.S. or South Korea. To save one's identity and culture, we need to look for good animators, interesting designs and find good stories that are based in our own countries. We don't necessarily have to look to Korea for inspiration."
There appears to be a proliferation of violence in animation and there's clearly a desire from some young people to watch violent films. Is it possible to attract them to less violent work?
Kalnaelli: "It is possible to change that and we could feasibly limit the amount of violence used in films. The main problem is finding the funds as the current climate, particularly in television, is to make action films as that's were the money is.
Has the new trend of using animation films in adult competition section of festivals helped animation filmmaking in general or has it become another chance for the U.S. to win big parts of the market?
Stiebra: "I'm not entirely sure. This fashion for competition could help but we can't make 'artistic' films for festivals. Competition is not good for artists and rather than encouraging the production of personal work, films are made specifically for festivals."
Till now animation films were mostly a distraction, but recently there has been a growth of socially-oriented animation films. Princess, the Danish film, which speaks about child abuse, is a good example. Could it be a new trend for animation films? Could they help?
Stiebra: "Maybe not necessarily social problems but we need to understand different aspects of life. Youngsters look at TV and watch DVD's. They know what's going on. But don't forget that a good film is the one that makes you feel good after you finish watching it. "
What do you forecast for animation films?
Kalnaelli: "I feel animation is more and more in different ways in the cinema. For me animation is a good way to develop an idea. There are no constrictions. If you like creating effects, you can use animation. Animation is the best way to show filmmakers an idea. Nevertheless I don't see a good future for it because in western countries they are delocalizing. Therefore the artistic and handmade aspect of animation films is being gradually forgotten. Good animators are rare. Animation is a hard work. It is not like a documentary you shoot and then you keep what you want."
Stiebra: "I think the future is good. We've had freedom for the last fifteen years. Things have changed. I'm optimistic. The situation generally arranges itself."
In conclusion, I have to say that I think if Latvian animation cinema remains faithful to the traditional techniques of image per image, respect its own identity and chooses good subjects, it will be one of the important places of invention, resourcefulness and fantasy in the future.
Shahla Nahid has been a journalist, film critic, specialist of Iranian cinema and responsible of a cultural chronicle at Radio France International since 1991. Her PhD thesis in social psychology was based on the impact of images and hidden persuasion.