Film school, shoots fuel Baltic boom

'Riga,' 'Fed Up' expected to boost regional prod'n

MOSCOW — The Baltic countries are ready for their place in the sun.

The three compact countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with total population of less than 8 million, have long asserted their independence from Russia and were strongly buoyed by last year’s EU accession. Now, they’re pushing to bring the region to greater international film prominence.

Production infrastructure is proceeding rapidly. According to Martin Aadamsoo, managing director of the Estonian Film Foundation, territory’s capital Tallinn, which closed its limited Soviet-era facility in the ’90s, is working on a studio expected to open by mid-2006.

In neighboring Latvia, a 450-acre Cinevilla lot is cementing international links to more than compete with the older Riga Studios that was privatized in the 1990s. As well as servicing Euro TV drama, it’s into shooting the largest feature from the region to date, Latvian helmer Aigars Grauba’s 1919-set costumer “Defenders of Riga.”

Third state Lithuania has an even longer history of providing competitive service deals for international productions along Eastern European models through the ’90s. It’s now relocating and expanding its recently privatized Vilnius studios on an $11 million budget for expected opening next year.

For Aadamsoo, one of the advantages is that none of the three countries have union and location regulations, considerably cutting red tape and costs — with no visa requirements into the bargain.

Latvia and Estonia have already been successfully working with each other (“Defenders” has Estonian coin, while Estonian helmer Peeter Simm’s “Good Hands” from Berlin 2002 Panorama was a full co-prod).

Latest co-prod proof came with early May on-sked completion of shooting for Simm’s new road movie “Fed Up.”

Slated for an October release, the German-language “Fed Up” is a co-production between Estonian company Ruut and Germany’s Saxonia Media. The region’s filmmaking capabilities should grow even more with the 2006 opening of an education facility, the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn.

Supported by Danish-based Nordic Baltic Film Fund, which is contributing over e1.1 million ($1.35 million), the fully digital school will help develop local talent that in Soviet days would have gone straight to Moscow.

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