Funding squeeze blamed for demise

VILNIUS, Lithuania — One of Eastern Europe’s oldest film festivals has closed after organizers claimed they could not raise enough money to continue.

Latvia’s Riga-based Intl. Film Festival Arsenals, founded in 1986 and in its early days a biennial event, was to have marked its 22nd edition in September.

But organizers claim failure to secure a longterm funding formula between the festival, Riga city council and the Latvian culture ministry, meant they could not continue.

Culture ministry and city council officials say they are puzzled by the decision.

A government official told Latvian news agency Leta that culture minister Zaneta Jaunzeme-Grende was open for discussion and funding proposals were being prepared.

The culture ministry gave the fest around $30,000 in 2012 and $19,000 last year.

Dzintra Abolina, for Riga city council, said it had already deposited nearly $35,000 in the fest’s account for this year’s event.

But organizers insist Arsenals has no future.

“For the past four years, we have been unable to reach a three-way co-operation agreement with the Riga city council and the culture ministry,” fest organizers said in a statement.

Maris Gailis, chairman of the fest’s organizing committee, told Leta: “We decided there would be no further comment; the festival is closed, finished, draw your own conclusions.”

Latvian film industry insiders say the backstory is not as simple as a lack of cash.

Behind-the-scenes clashes between fest’s directors and founder and owner of Arsenals concept, Augusts Sukuts, were contributory factors.

Frequent changes of fest director and a weakening of the event’s international profile had reached the point at which Sukuts decided to pull the plug, the source suggested.

Sukuts could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Supporters, who have launched an online petition to save the fest, say it remains one of the strongest cultural brands in the tiny Baltic state.

An unusual, charmingly eccentric event, Arsenals picked the winner for its $10,000 Grand Prix in a unique manner: each of the directors in competition was given a drink and the winner was the one who found a golden button at the bottom of the cup.

Once popular, in recent years Arsenals has been overshadowed by the Tallin Black Night fest in neighboring Estonia, which has become the Baltics’ leading film event with a vibrant professional section that attracts industryites from across Europe.

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