Despite the Pandemic’s Challenges, Baltic Film Festivals Show Their Resilience

·4-min read

If the pandemic year has proven anything about the global film community, it’s been the industry’s ability to adapt on the fly—even in the face of an unprecedented crisis for an industry that considers travel and face-to-face networking as essential to its basic function as post-production and P&A.

But as industry professionals around the globe dust off their passports and get their noses swabbed, the busy summer season ahead is a reminder that festival premieres and in-person industry events still offer a time-tested way to maintain old relationships and discover new talents.

More from Variety

Nowhere is that more evident than on a continent whose open borders have helped make such communal cultural events a hallowed institution. “Film festivals are still an important tool for the evaluation and promotion of European—including Baltic and Latvian—films and author-driven films,” says Dita Rietuma, director of Latvia’s National Film Center. “There is a need for festivals in all the European film structure. So far, no other alternatives have been found—despite the presence of various digital platforms.”

For the small but growing film industries of the Baltics, festival visibility is a vital launching pad for any filmmaker looking to find her place on the global stage. Despite the challenges of the past year, the region has proved its ability to rise to the occasion, hosting a number of virtual and hybrid events in the midst of the pandemic while prepping for a busy slate in the months ahead.

Organizers of the Vilnius Intl. Film Festival were just days away from raising the curtain on the 25th anniversary edition when the coronavirus pandemic forced them to scrap those plans. The team had just a week to reimagine the festival as a digital event, but in the end, Vilnius was one of the world’s first industry confabs to go virtual in 2020.

With a bit more time and planning on their side, the organizers mounted a successful hybrid event in the Lithuanian capital this spring. Screenings took place in local living rooms, hotels and drive-in theaters, with the festival’s VOD platform complementing a return to cinemas for one week in April. Other industry events—including the European Film Forum Scanorama, the Vilnius Intl. Short Film Festival, and the Intl. Human Rights Documentary Film Festival—also pulled off a swift pivot to the virtual space in the midst of the pandemic. “We accomplished what we had set out to do,” says Scanorama head Gražina Arlickaitė.

In neighboring Latvia, the lively capital will host the eighth edition of the Riga Intl. Film Festival this year, from Oct. 14-24, while the 25th Baltic Sea Docs—a pitching forum for documentary filmmakers from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, organized by the National Film Center—will unspool from Sept. 1-12. The Riga Intl. Short Film Festival, 2Annas, already hosted a successful 25th edition earlier this year, though the event was moved online due to the pandemic.

After hosting a successful hybrid edition in 2020, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (pictured), and the 20th anniversary of its industry strand, Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event, the leading platforms for films and filmmakers from the region.

The festivities will kick off on the Croisette, as Tallinn Black Nights Goes to Cannes presents five feature films during the Cannes Film Market’s annual pix-in-post showcase, while the Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event Co-Production Market joins the Cannes Marché’s Co-Production Day with seven promising projects from across Europe. It’s the first time the two events will have a presence in Cannes.

Throughout the year, the festival will launch a host of hybrid online and offline initiatives such as the Black Nights Discovery Campus for young filmmakers, an online industry project and talent market, and the Creative Gate portal for film industry and creative industry professionals. A series co-financing market, TV Beats, will also be part of the established Baltic Event Co-Production market for the first time.

“In a way, we must be thankful for COVID: during the lockdown, we’ve come to a digital turning point and found new ways to develop our online projects,” says Tallinn Black Nights director Tiina Lokk, calling it a “long-term dream” to incorporate online tools into its education initiatives. “I wouldn’t say that the activities that we have planned for this year are only because of the anniversary. It is just the natural development of things.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting