The Movie Lovers

The world makes out all right at the International Film Festival

--Laura Sinagra


Festival Express
Riverview Theater, Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.

Tim Lane

Yet another late-'60s/early '70s concert epic, this long-delayed document of the trans-Canadian festival headlined in 1970 by the Band and the Dead is unique for its lovingly culled shots of train-car jamming between gigs. The viewer's interest is either there or it isn't, although anyone who doesn't marvel at Buddy Guy's blistering (and ironic) performance of "Money (That's What I Want)" should have his ears examined by a medical professional.

--Derek Nystrom


Minnesota Shorts Showcase
Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Whatever the reason, a high percentage of shorts in this solid collection--including the satiric "Video Kid" by Laura Dean and Isaac Gale--deal with the elusive nature of identity in a fragmented, media-obsessed culture. The most emotionally satisfying of the batch is Wyatt McDill's rough-hewn "Garbage Man," which subtly weighs the effect of economic hardship on socialization. Elsewhere, Dave Novak's beautifully rendered "Solder Man" uses digital animation to detail the struggles of a plucky paper-clip man, while the inscrutable "Digits" by William Scott Rees and JoEllen Martinson suggests a nightmare Target commercial directed by Godard in his Vertov period.

--Eric Henderson



With her first film, Mara Pelece asks the question that's on everyone's mind these days: What does it mean to be Latvian?

Okay, maybe not everyone's mind. But the anxiety and curiosity that frame Pelece's documentary Between Latvias are as new and pervasive as global trade itself. What does it mean to be a nation in this day and age, anyway? Even an American one?

Where the late Jean Rouch in 1960 asked Parisians, "Are you happy?" against the backdrop of the Algerian war, and where Twin Citian Mark Wojahn went cross-country in 2002 to ask everyday Americans, "What does America need?" during the long buildup to the ongoing war with Iraq, Pelece now talks to Latvians across the continents--random hockey fans, prominent politicians, soldiers, poets--about their collective identity as the homeland prepares to enter the European Union.

"You can totally divide me in two halves," says one young Latvian-American in the film, switching in and out of English almost half-consciously.

"That's typical of people our age," Pelece says of the response, watching this scene with me on her laptop during a recent interview at Montana Coffee House in Minneapolis.

The idea for making Between Latvias occurred to the director, naturally, while enjoying some all-American beer and volleyball with other Yankees whose only immediate bond was the common language of Latvian.

"I was just raising the issue of, well, what are we doing here?" Pelece says, recounting summer getaways with the American Latvian Youth Association. (Youth for Latvians means anyone age 35 and under.)

Raised in Prior Lake by immigrants who arrived from Latvia as children, Pelece has no trace of an accent now. But she spoke Latvian at home, attended school where only Latvian was spoken, and was fluent enough to turn her idea into a film.

"In the documentary, one woman actually says, 'If Latvia becomes Russified, we're going to be the ones that save Latvian culture.' That's kind of the responsibility that was pushed on us."

Like indigenous nations the world over, Latvians are few (only 1.5 million people), and have struggled to keep their language alive. The inhabitants of the seaside Baltic territory have lived under German, Polish, Swedish, and Russian rule. Under the Nazi occupation, 90 percent of the Jewish population was murdered in concentration camps. Latvians endured the military colonialism of the Soviet Union, whose government imported Russian labor. (Descendants are still there, and call themselves Latvian, though Russian and Latvian speakers flock to different discotheques.) Pelece's grandfather's cousin, a writer, lived in Siberia for 20 years after one round of overnight deportations. In 1986, when Pelece was 15, she visited Latvia for the first time, and found a surveillance state under the gloss of her organized tour.

That journey, Pelece says, also coincided with one of the first big demonstrations, and with the beginning of a period that many modern-day residents of Riga recall wistfully in her film. "I remember the fascination of seeing our flag for the first time," says one woman. "After that, everything went through the roof."

Pelece doesn't attempt to reconstruct the revolutionary events of 1991. But enough Latvians refer to the barricades in Cathedral Square, where the population made its historic stand against a possible Soviet attack, that you begin to infer their power: This was the last moment many Latvians could be sure about their national identity at all.

Still, many of the people Pelece approaches have no answers. Or they ask, "Why are you even asking this question?"

The director wasn't surprised to find, when she began shooting in 1999, that few precedents existed for her project. She notices a difference in reactions to her queries between people under age 27, and those over 27, who have retained a certain "closed-off way of being" from the old days.

"A lot of people I talked to were very shy about speaking," Pelece says. "People there aren't used to having a voice."

--Peter S. Scholtes


Mara Pelece will be present to introduce the MSPIFF screening of Between Latvias at Macalester College's John B. Davis Lecture Hall (1600 Grand Ave. in St. Paul) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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