U.S. auteur draws top spot at Latvia film fest

Menkes takes home $10,000 prize

RIGA, Latvia — The luck of the draw netted U.S. experimental auteur Nina Menkes the $10,000 top prize at the seventh Arsenals film fest, which ran Sept. 21-28 in the Latvian capital.

In a closing ceremony that won high marks for originality and irreverence, 19 competing filmmakers gathered onstage to drink their way to fortune, with a lucky silver button, courtesy of fest prez Augusts Sukuts, floating at the bottom of the winning whiskey glass.

On a more conventional note, local heroine Laila Pakalnina was prized by the FIPRESCI jury (who reportedly did not draw lots) for Cannes competish pic “The Shoe.” Rising Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi snared special mention for “The Mirror.”

Fest recognition awards went to Dutch director Jos Stelling and Arsenals art director Alexander Busse.

Double int’l attendees

Plaudits from the fest circuit gang went to organizers at the Baltics’ major film event, which is held biannually. Showcasing 194 pics, this year’s fest extended its growing recognition with a doubling of international attendees.

And this was the year to do it. Film production in the Baltic states is at last on the rebound after seeing the bottom drop out in the early 1990s.

Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania should produce upward of 10 films in the next year. And with the first crop of local film school trainees just freshly graduated, Baltic cinema could strengthen its local identity. That’s expected to be helped with increased government money in Estonia and the first private money going into Latvian films.

Acknowledging the regional rebirth, German fest Cottbus has a Baltic focus skedded for its Nov 11-15 event.

Riga-born Sergei Eisenstein was the subject of a centennial seminar held n conjunction with Arsenals. Fest sidelights included a train trip to the east of rural Latvia to view a newly minted wax statue of the master, as well as the opening of the first telephone booth in the village of Keipene.

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