- Poster for Off to War (“Es karā aiziedams”, dir. Vilis Segliņš, 1920)
- Lilija Ērika and Alfreds Antmanis-Briedītis in In the Vortex of Time (“Laiku viesulī”, dir. Pyotr Chardynin, 1921)
- Lilita Bērziņa in Bear-slayer (“Lāčplēsis”, dir. Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, 1930)
- Voldemārs Dimze in Bear-slayer (“Lāčplēsis”, dir. Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, 1930)
The founding of the Republic of Latvia during 1918 -1920 was strongly connected to the idea of a national culture, and the education system, accessible to all, became the foundation. Unfortunately government officials did not connect cinema, with the exception of newsreels - an obligatory part of film screenings, to the idea of national identity.
The first Latvian feature, Off to War (“Es karā aiziedams”, 1920) united and also outlined the peculiarities characteristic to Latvian cinema: ties to ethnic mythology (as indicated by the film’s title, from a Latvian folk song, and also in the advertisement: “On screen: Latvian farmland, its people, and soldiers”), and awareness of a national mission. The genre dominating the period of independence before the occupation could be dubbed “national melodrama”. The circumstances in these melodramas that fatefully affect emotions and relationships are determined by the series of historical, or sometimes symbolic, events connected to the founding of the Latvian nation.
The premiere of Off to War took place on November 9, 1920, at the Grand Kino cinema. Encouraged by the results, the film’s creators founded the company Latvian Film (“Latvju Filma”) on April 25, 1921, under the leadership of Kārlis Kārkliņš. They invited prominent members of society, such as the writer Jānis Rainis, to join them. The founders obviously felt their lack of professional experience, and that is why the Russian émigré, Pyotr Chardynin, the pre-revolutionary melodrama master, was appointed film director at Latvian Film.
Latvian Film second large-scale project was In the Vortex of Time (“Laiku viesulī”, 1921), based on a screenplay by Jānis Akuraters. In the Vortex of Time was also dedicated to the battles for Latvian independence, in this case about the complicated events that took place in the city of Liepāja in the spring of 1919, during the coup attempt by Andrievs Niedra.
The film Bear-slayer (“Lāčplēsis”, 1930) – producer Alfrēds Bērziņš, director Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, cinematographer Jānis Sīlis. In terms of scope of concept (the road Latvians have taken to their own nation, beginning with the idyllic past through the 1905 revolution to WWI and the freedom battles), the film Bear-slayer has no equal in Latvian cinema to date. The film’s style is defined by the intertwining of realism and symbolism. The characters and events, the film’s space and time, work simultaneously on several levels – the mystical, the historical, the human aspect, and the symbolic. At the end, historical reality and the mystical converge. An ad for the film declares: “Vanags and Mirdza are united in a passionate kiss…The era of great battles comes to a close. Lāčplēsis – the Latvian nation – has won back his lost Laimdota – freedom.”