Filmmaker in Focus: Laila PAKALNINA

Filmmaker in Focus: Laila PAKALNINA

Born in 1962, Laila PAKALNINA is Latvia’s most famous director, with her documentary and fiction films being honoured across the world at prestigious film festivals including Cannes, Venice and Berlin. After studying journalism in university, she further trained as a director at the Moscow Film Institute, and thus began her life as a filmmaker. Since her first documentary short The Linen in 1991, she has completed more than 30 works in a career spanning nearly three decades, and her camera has borne testament to Latvia’s historic changes, from gaining independence from the USSR to becoming a member of the EU. Although she never directly dealt with politics and social issues, audiences could nevertheless sense the changes in Latvian society through her works.


She finds her greatest inspiration in everyday life and has a unique eye for the extraordinary in commonplace objects and events. Even in detailed shots one sees the whole picture, while in her long shots she ushers in a sense of timelessness. Her unconventional use of camera angles and her delicate use of sound come together to construct a vast, expansive scenescape. Transportation vehicles are often seen in her films, and among her most common recurring themes are borders and movement. In addition, she possesses the keen sense of a choreographer in perceiving movements that come across her eye and is particularly masterful in capturing minute human emotions and movements; her humorous creations never fail to generate a chuckle.


PAKALNINA respects the time needed for each shot, but also dares to cut time to capture the essence of life. Even in her shorter works, she brings out a sense of haiku-like eternity — in TARKOVSKY’s words, ‘an entire world reflected as in a drop of water’. This impeccable insight into reality stems from her distinctive creative trait: waiting. Not being one to be constrained by a structural concept for a given work, she opens herself up to the unknown, unafraid of becoming lost, and awaits the image tucked away in a corner to call to her: the coming of a train, the arrival of a letter, the backward glance of a horse… all nurture a film within. Naturally, she awaits the viewer to involve themselves in waiting for reality to come.


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