Baltic Sea Docs 2021
Industry Report: Documentary
Latvian veteran documentarian Laila Pakalniņa discusses her career at Baltic Sea Docs
The masterclass covered the director's work in documentary and fiction, her approach to writing as well as the importance of building up atmospheres for effective storytelling
This year’s edition of Baltic Sea Docs hosted a masterclass dedicated to the work of veteran filmmaker Laila Pakalniņa. The conversation with the Latvian director, held on 6 September, was moderated by documentary consultant Tue Steen Müller.
One of the first topics covered by the masterclass was Pakalniņa’s writing approach. “When I’m making documentaries, it’s impossible to write a script,” she says. However, she revealed that, once, she had to write one to apply for funding. Owing to the unpredictable nature of this type of work, this style of writing doesn’t make any sense to her: “I wrote something that didn’t have anything to do with the film. [...] I don’t have a script, but I do have a plan, otherwise nobody would give me money.” In this respect, she provided an example by mentioning the making of Spoon [+see also:
interview: Laila Pakalnina
film profile] (2019). Pakalniņa received support from two Latvian bodies and from the European Union’s Creative MEDIA programme. The problem with that application was, once again, the length and accuracy of her paperwork. While her three previous applications had been successful with a description of only one page and a half and some visuals, she didn’t manage to submit an eligible application to the Lithuanian Film Centre, as it would require more extensive supporting documentation.
Speaking about her film school years at Moscow’s VGIK, Pakalniņa said that she learnt there that “you’re not like a God, but you’re lower than grass,” but at the same time she managed to gain strength to fight for her films and for her ideas. During her years at the prestigious Russian academy, she also became passionate about sitting in the editing room and working with 35mm. When it comes to editing, she admitted that she is still a bit like “a dictator,” but she also appreciates the insights and the dialogue that can emerge by collaborating with a competent editor.
Later, Müller introduced the screening of three of Pakalniņa’s shorts, namely Short Film About Life (2014), Papa Gena (2002) and The First Bridge (2020). Commenting on the importance of building up a certain atmosphere while staging, Pakalniņa spoke about her experience on Papa Gena: “It was my only film that was commissioned. It was supposed to be part of a Latvian exhibition at Venice’s Art Biennale. I had only two rules to follow: there was some kind of anniversary to celebrate so I had to put both Mozart and Riga. Then I decided to go very simple and gave people headphones. I asked them to listen to some joyful music from Mozart. To build up the atmosphere, the idea was not to play music while we film them wearing the headphones, but only when they were depicted in wider shots. It’s one of my most conceptual work, and the idea came before shooting.”
Next, she was asked to talk about her long-time collaboration with DoP Gints Bērziņš: “We studied in the same school and took our first steps in film together. Our understanding of cinema is the same. We set composition and then we wait [for things to happen], usually. Of course, sometimes it’s different and things are already happening. But there’s something more than framing, it’s not only technical [work].” In particular she highlighted that, to be successful, films – even the sad ones - “need to be made with joy.”
Finally, Müller introduced the screening of another short, Dream Land (2004). In the last few minutes, Pakalniņa touched upon her new efforts, including her upcoming feature Homes.
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