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KARLOVY VARY 2018 Documentary Competition

Review: Bridges of Time

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- KARLOVY VARY 2018: The astoundingly beautiful doc by Kristīne Briede and Audrius Stonys about the forgotten masters of the Baltic New Wave recently premiered in the Documentary Competition

Review: Bridges of Time

With the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all celebrating their 100th birthday this year, Bridges of Time [+see also:
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 is – pardon the pun – a timely treatise on the masters of the Baltic New Wave, a tradition of poetic documentary-making whose origins can be traced back to the 1960s. Aside from its historical context, the film – directed by renowned Baltic documentarians Kristīne Briede (Latvia) and Audrius Stonys (Lithuania), and world-premiered in the Documentary Competition at Karlovy Vary – is also a passionate defence of the need to make documentaries and the human desire to preserve moments in time.

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“We film the Earth, but we remember that Heaven is above us,” says late Latvian director Herz Frank at the beginning of the movie. This sense of the achingly human yet serenely spiritual runs through the film, as the directors eschew straight narrative in favour of a poetic approach taught to them by their predecessors. Clips from movies by some of the masters of documentary sadly neglected by film history are interspersed with present-day footage of the same locations, reminding us about the immutable passage of time and the eminently mutable nature of human memory. Sometimes these masters appear in contemporary footage. Latvian director Aivars Freimanis sits with the family he first shot in 1969’s The Catch, the lithe and work-worn sailor now a contentedly plump old man, and the shy and playful toddler now a slightly grumpy middle-aged man. Two states of being, both captured in time.

Sometimes the juxtapositions of time are full of hope, with a sense of somehow “beating” time, preserving it in amber for future generations. But there’s also a sense that these images remind us that everything will decay eventually. Archive footage of Robertas Verba, who died lonely and neglected, shows him as a rather tired and haggard figure (though obviously still with a fierce intelligence). It’s placed next to scenes from his work that show a baby learning to walk, the circle of life portrayed through the lens of two different eras.

There are some who may find the lack of context given in the film irksome – there is little here apart from captions informing you of the identity of the directors. But this was never meant as a work of straight historiography, but rather one that lets images paint an abstract picture.

That said, those who have no knowledge of Baltic documentary need not worry. Bridges of Time works as a perfect primer for the subject, and there will be very few audiences who will leave this film without a desire to discover more of those poetic films that, through simple depictions of human behaviour and the nature that surrounds it, paint a complex picture of life and preserve it for future generations.

Bearing in mind the aforementioned Baltic centenary, Bridges of Time – fresh from its world premiere – should prove a big success on the festival circuit (especially, and obviously, at documentary-focused gatherings), and some theatrical runs in an arthouse context would not be totally unthinkable.

The film is a production by Latvia’s VFS Films and Lithuania’s Studio Nominum, in co-production with Estonia’s Vesilind.

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