"WHITE BELLS". The poetic documentary and virtual tours about Riga 60 years apart. UPDATED 14.04.2020.

On 25 March, we published our very first virtual city tour about Riga dedicated to, probably, the most renowned documentary script writer and later director from Latvia – Herz Frank, and a very special short film he worked on.

Herz Frank is credited as one of the kingpins of a genre (or call it a movement) named "Riga poetic documentary cinema school" along with director Ivars Kraulītis and operator Uldis Brauns. In 1961 their mutual work, a short motion picture called "White Bells" (Baltie zvani) about a little girl wandering around Riga and looking for small white flowers, was released to become a milestone of this genre.

Back in the sixties, this school allowed documentalists all over the Baltic states to talk about the age they are living without avoiding the Soviet censorship, and still looking for answers on eternal questions. Questions that the proletariat should have no need to answer. Their language was a poetic cinema, saturated with symbols and metaphors, we must say – it was a very introvert, typically to us, yet an extremely deep way of looking at the world through themselves.

Uldis Brauns (with camera) and Ivars Kraulītis during the filming of White Bells (Herz Frank; circa 1960).

Decades would pass, and men and women involved into the genre would create many significant works to further define the idiosyncrasy of the "school" - locally and globally. Uldis Brauns' "230,000,000" and "Strādnieks", Herz Frank's "Ten minutes older" or "Augstā dziesma", Ivars Seleckis' "Šķērsiela", Juris Podnieks' "Vai viegli būt jaunam", and more - receiving awards for being best documentaries in competitions. It even ends with a film "Bridges of times" by Kristīne Briede and Audrius Stonys being published recently and is depicted to looking back at the poetic documentary phenomena in the Baltics.

In fact, the school has affected the way Latvian filmmakers work even today. Documentary as a medium owns a huge part of the country's cinematic heritage since the sixties, and the pace, manner of filming, social, emotional, and emotional topics still define every documentary being droped these days. One of the best examples being published recently is "Lidija" by Henrieta and Andrejs Verhoustinskis.

“White Bells” is still extremely significant with its portray on Riga. Despite it being started as a feature film, very soon it became a documentation of, although, sometimes organized, yet life in the capital of Latvia before many things began to change. At least, architecturally and from an urban perspective and, at this point this short movie is quite a unique artefact of Riga back then.

Interviewing girls for the main role (circa 1960).

The seminal script of “White Bells”, although severely changed, was composed by Herz Frank, a Jewish Latvian, born in a town more than 250 km from Riga called Ludza. He lived in the capital for roughly 40 years until 1993 when leaving for Jerusalem.

60 years have passed, and many things have changed. At first, Mr Frank is no longer among us since 2013. At second, many of us are encapsulated at home during the covid-19 lockdown taking place all over Europe and that also includes Riga. Therefore, we at CAPITAL R came up with an idea to take people around the city purposefully and, of course, safely.

Herz Frank around the time of filming "White Bells" (National Film Centre of Latvia).

Through the last five years, we have managed to work with Riga Film Museum and Kristīne Briede to bring Riga back to life as seen in the poetic documentary. By running several tours and individual expeditions, a route on the genre was shaped, mostly based on "White Bells" as a rare example of this poetic documentary being filmed exclusively in Riga (and covering a vast area and contrasts of the city).

This route you are about to experience, although not unknown to us, has never been at full scale like today. For sure, it does not mean that we will manage to tell every single bit of the story. In fact, since this is our very virtual gaze on Riga, there might be some little mishaps and slips on the way, but we hope you will forgive us or failures or, most likely, will never notice them.

We want this virtual tour to rather serve as a well played teaser for everyone to visit places as illuminated in the film and as seen today. So, let this video, no longer than an hour, serve you as a visual reminder and a little historical remark to your own journey sometime in the future or maybe never. At least, when else will you have a possibility to join a city tour when couch potatoing.

And here the virtual city tour around Riga 60 years apart begins! Subscribe our YouTube channel for new upcoming virtual tours soon!