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The Phenomenon of Television-commissioned Films in the Riga Film Studio (1966–1989):

Audiovisual and Narrative Stylistic Techniques


Daira Abolina-Iljesane


This presentation focuses on the period from the 1960s to the 1980s when a strong generation of directors was formed in Latvia. Latvian directors, even when working with ideologically charged topics, retained their personal mode of expression and authorship, confirming that Latvian cinema of the 20th century cinema refused to be succumbed to Soviet culture and maintained a connection with European traditions.


Although the geopolitical situation in Latvia and other countries of the Baltic Sea region has also influenced the means of cinematic expression for decades, Latvian cinema has often managed to maintain its sovereignty in terms of artistic communication and language of cinema.


In Latvia, two categories of films were made under the Riga Film Studio brand – films for the big screen and films commissioned by television. Television films as a separate mode with its own specifics has never been properly researched. These productions had smaller budgets, which not only influenced artistic techniques, but also led to a search for new artistic solutions of different spectrum. The Riga Film Studio created a new format – a two-series film, which meant not only increased length, but also different narrative structure and audiovisual techniques. The first multi-series films in Latvia were also made at the Riga Film Studio. At different times, the same directors worked both on titles for the big screen and made-for-television films. The aim here is to compare the stylistic techniques characteristic to these two categories, highlighting the specifics of television films in terms of stylistic and narrative techniques. All the films of this period were shot on 35mm, using the cinematic aesthetic techniques of that time, and the television films were first released at cinemas and then on television.


The television films were initially aimed at millions of spectators of different nations and cultural contexts across the former USSR, which also influenced the language of cinema. The requirements for casting were informally defined. The resulting screen works were shaped by the censorship of the USSR Central Television. Foreign authors were screened in violation of copyright. Not only ‘one-day’ films were created in the TV mode, but also masterpieces of the history of Latvian cinema. In this period, the television-commissioned films accounted for 28 per cent of the total production of the Riga Film Studio and formed an important segment of filmmaking.


Daira Abolina-Iljesane is a doctoral student at the University of Latvia and holds MA degrees in journalism (University of Latvia, 1985) and film theory and history (VGIK, 1993). She is lecturer of film aesthetics at the RISEBA University (since 2010), programming director of the Splendid Palace cinema, film expert of the Latvian Culture Capital Foundation and the Latvian National Film Centre. She has served on international juries in Venice, Leipzig, Karlovy Vary and Moscow, and is a member of European Film Academy. She is the author of Jāņa Streiča maģiskais reālisms 22. filmas (The Magical Realism of Jānis Streičs: 22 Films, 2016) and co-author of Rolanda Kalniņa telpa (Cinematic Space of Rolands Kalniņš, 2018).

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