Baltic Sea Docs (BSD) is a unique international event in the Baltics that annually draws over 100 documentary filmmakers and industry professionals from the Baltic Sea region and Eastern and Central Europe, offering funding opportunities and ensuring their projects reach a broad European audience. Besides preparatory workshops and seminars for participants and the Latvian film community, the forum showcases top-tier documentaries in Riga and major Latvian cities.
Taking place from 3 – 10 September in Riga, Latvia, BSD will comprise 24 film projects, an extensive industry programme, and film screenings, while its forum showcases film projects from 11 countries, including Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Ahead of the forum pitches on 7 and 8 September, Modern Times Review spoke with the Project Manager of the Baltic Sea Forum for Documentaries Zane Balčus on its history, the current trends in documentaries from the Baltic region, and the role the BSD plays within the wider European documentary landscape.
In the forum’s submissions and selection, we constantly see the political tensions there are in the region.
How do you define your role as the Project Manager for the Baltic Sea Forum for Documentaries (BSD)?
The National Film Centre of Latvia organizes Baltic Sea Docs. For the fifth year, I am the project manager, responsible for overseeing and running the event. Our team is not too big, and I am happy it has not changed much over the years, even though the job is only for part of the year. It allows us to run the event smoothly as each of us knows its tasks. The event has a long history already – this will be the 27th edition. In the past years, we have tried to strengthen international outreach and establish more collaborations with partnering institutions and events. As a result, I’m very happy that the IDFA Spotlight award will be handed out at the Baltic Sea Docs for two years. Helsinki Human Rights Foundation is also a new partner and continuing partner – Current Time TV, which plays a very important role for the regional filmmakers.
What role do you see BSD playing within the wider documentary landscape of the European continent? Has this evolved over the years?
Baltic Sea Docs was formed in Denmark as a platform for regional filmmakers to find their entry and know-how in the European documentary industry in the late 1990s. This was a new environment for filmmakers from countries where the structures were just forming. Moving in between various countries in the early 2000s and settling down in Riga in 2006, the forum’s main goal has not changed – to be a strong platform for documentary filmmakers of the region. The forum has expanded its geographical reach over the years, keeping the main focus – bringing together regional filmmakers with potential partners, whether broadcasters, sales agents, or film funds. This year, we have added a new section – BSD Coming Soon projects, which were previously pitched at the forum and are now in the post-production stage. With this, we wanted to turn the attention to the projects we’ve seen in earlier stages, inviting more festival representatives. In terms of local audience reach, we select and present to the audience a non-competitive film programme that is screened in Riga and other towns and, this year, an online programme. Also, in the online programme, we stress the connection between industry and local audiences by selecting and showing the films pitched at the forum in previous years.
The Baltic region has a very strong documentary tradition.
How do you see the current thematic and/or aesthetic «trends» in documentary films from the region? How (if) have these trends found themselves in the 2023 projects presented? Do these trends compare with the region’s more traditional approach to documentary films?
In the forum’s submissions and selection, we constantly see the political tensions there are in the region. Depending on the current situation, we see the pressing issues reflected in the filmmakers’ ideas. This year, we received a large number of Ukrainian submissions, and it was a particularly tough choice to make the selection. We can witness very different approaches to the essence of documentary – what are the means for capturing the world around us? We see projects with clearly observational approaches, more constructed and staged elements, diaristic storytelling and much more. So, a great variety of styles allows us to reflect on the current state of documentary.
Over the years, what have been some significant projects that BSD Forum has been involved with?
In recent years, we have seen a number of successful films – Earth is Blue as an Orange by Irina Tsylik, This Rain Will Never Stop by Alina Gorlova, Giedre Zickyte’s The Jump, Kristīne Briede and Audrius Stony’s Bridges of Time, and many others.
Finally, in your opinion, what are some seminal non-fiction films from Latvia and the wider Baltic region?
The Baltic region has a very strong documentary tradition. Recent efforts to create a unifying term – Baltic poetic documentary cinema – is one of the signs designating the 1960s-1970s generation of filmmakers who approach documentary filmmaking with a fresh look. Herz Frank, Uldis Brauns, Ivars Seleckis, Juris Podnieks, Laila Pakalniņa, Ieva Ozoliņa and many other shows a great spectrum of Latvian documentary film history and contemporary scene.