The Riga Film Museum: A Hidden Gem
If you head south-east from St Peter’s church in Riga’s old town, and navigate through the winding backstreets, you will find the Riga film museum. It’s nestled at the end of a tiny alley, just seconds away from the photography museum and the sports museum. So why choose the Kinomuzejs? I went to check it out.
Riga’s film history is varied, and host to an impressive cast of innovators, but one man rises above the rest in any honest assessment. I was not surprised, then, when I entered the first exhibition room to find an enormous wooden bust of Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein.
Eisenstein was born in Riga in 1898 to a Russian mother and a father of Jewish-Swedish ancestry. His father, an architect, was the creative genius behind much of Riga’s art nouveau design and his buildings are still visited by tourists today. The young Eisenstein would live in Riga for his first seventeen years, his aesthetic outlook shaped by the fabric of the city both passively and, through his father’s work, actively.
The museum does a good job taking us through Eisenstein’s early years. After he left in 1915, he only returned on a few occasions. He was offered to lead a film studio here, but refused. Still—it is clear his childhood significantly influenced his filmmaking. When he was seven, the convulsion of the Russian Empire in the 1905 revolution was impressed on him deeply, and this came to be the theme of his breakthrough film, Battleship Potemkin (1925). The next year, he travelled to Paris and saw a film for the first time in his life.
Film in Latvia
But Eisenstein isn’t the end of film history in Riga—he’s the beginning. There are photos and discussions of the other characters involved in filmmaking, from the cameramen working with cutting-edge technology, to the editors—often women—who manually cut up strips of film to create montage.
The museum is home to a number of cameras from the last century. These are the bricks-and-mortar of the craft, and to see them up close gives a new perspective on the 2D productions they create. We also see information about historic firsts in Latvia: the first film shown; the first feature length production; the first colour film. These are all interesting insights into the priorities and cultural climate of the nation at that tie.
What not to Expect
For all the history this museum sheds light on, it is a small affair—with a corresponding entry price. That makes it perfect for a half-hour activity when you’re in the old town, or a stop on a museum-crawl of the area. It is even more enjoyable if you are familiar with some of the art discussed. Why not watch an Eisenstein film before you visit?
Luke is a history and languages student interning at Liden & Denz, Riga.
Image credit to author. Photo from the Riga Film Museum.