Studio News from John, Part 7: Let's Learn About Latvia!

Most everything I know about the country of Latvia - which I admit, is not much - I only know because I've known Signe for so long.  I know that the capital of Latvia is Riga, and it's located between Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, and that it was part of the Soviet Union from the start of World War II until it declared independence in 1990.  


I joke around with Signe by telling her that if weren't for a certain basketball player on the New York Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis, she'd have a real shot at being the most famous Latvian in NYC.  Who knows, maybe someday he'll be traded to another team and she can move up in the local rankings.  

Kristaps Porzingis, at 7'3" the most famous (and tallest) Latvian in NY. (Sturgis Warner added to photo for size comparison)

Kristaps Porzingis, at 7'3" the most famous (and tallest) Latvian in NY. (Sturgis Warner added to photo for size comparison)

If you've been following Signe on Facebook, then you know she and Sturgis have been in Latvia for the last three weeks, and she'll be back in New York just in time for Christmas.  But it hasn't been a vacation, they've been supervising the Latvian recording of the dialog and songs for "My Love Affair With Marriage".  

If you remember Signe's film "Rocks in My Pockets", there were two versions released theatrically, one with English dialogue and the other with Latvian dialogue.  Her film was so successful in Latvia that it won Best Screenplay and Best Animated Feature in the Latvian National Film Competition, and also the Best Feature Film Prize at the Riga International Film Festival. Then it was chosen as the official Latvian entry to the Academy's Foreign Film category, which was a great accomplishment for an animated film. 

Obviously, with a story based on Signe's family history, which was set in Latvia, that film had a strong connection with the people of Latvia.  Since part of Signe's next film is set there, too, it makes sense to see if lightning will strike twice, and make a Latvian version of "My Love Affair With Marriage" also.  

This means that the dialogue and songs that were recorded in English earlier this year have to be re-worked and re-recorded with Latvian actors and singers.  So that's what Signe and Sturgis have been doing in Latvia, working with the film's Latvian co-producer, Locomotiv Productions.  

At MUTE Studio in Latvia with Arnis Racinskis and LMND / Limonade

At MUTE Studio in Latvia with Arnis Racinskis and LMND / Limonade

For the songs, they called on the Latvian trio known as LMND/Limonade, which consists of Ieva Katkovska, Kristine Pastare and Iluta Alsberga.  They filled the roles of the Mythology Sirens, who sing advice to the main character about how to behave and fit in with society.

Signe and Sturgis in the studio with voice actor Kaspars Znotins

Signe and Sturgis in the studio with voice actor Kaspars Znotins

And now they've moved on from the songs to recording the dialogue.  From what I hear, the work schedule has been very intense, but it's also been very exciting to hear the film's soundtrack coming together, now in two languages. 

So while we've all been rushing around here in New York., getting ready for the holidays, Signe and Sturgis have been hard at work!  I hope that they've allowed themselves a little time to relax and enjoy the trip, and I wish them safe travel back here on Christmas Eve.  

There's always time to play a little game of "Fetch" with a dog.

There's always time to play a little game of "Fetch" with a dog.

Research II

When they tell you children are like angels - blank pages in books of purity and innocence that Life and Devil start to write on their dark messages in black ink around teen age - please do not believe them. Every fool who has held a newborn baby knows children scream when they want something. They scream for food, love, affection and toys. When they grow up they learn to push aside their competitors - other babies, small dogs and a-month-old kittens - to get to the desired goods.

One important thing about children you should really know -  scientists confirmed recently that besides being cry-babies babies are also racists. If you read that article you'll find out the reason why:

The idea of in-group bias is well established in behavioral science, and it has its roots long ago, in humanity’s tribal era.

From the moment they are born, children learn to distinguish between the people in their group and the outsiders. It only gets worse as children grow (until their Prefrontal Cortex develops and as adults they become aware of their bias and learn to correct it). Which brings me back to my story about school uniforms.

In Russia a school uniform for girls looked like this:

While in Latvia it looked like this, a whole class:


- Ah, - you'd say. - I see no big difference! Its just a uniform!

Well, it's easy for you to say. The eyes of 8-year olds are like those of an eagle, discerning the smallest difference from the furthest distance, anything that would give them clues to start an abuse of The Other. Have you ever tried to enter a classroom, full of 8-year-olds, dressed in the wrong uniform? On September 1st, after my return from Sakhalin to Latvia, I did just that and instantly was tagged as The Other. When the teacher asked me to introduce myself to the class, and I said ... :

- Hi, my name is Signe Baumane. My family recently moved to this town from Sakhalin...

... the 35 of my future classmates detected Russian accent in my Latvian speech which gave them permission to hate me. After 1941 Latvians considered Russians as representatives of occupying powers and harbored quiet but bitter resentments towards the privileges and entitlements the newly arrived Russians enjoyed. Of course, being a second class citizens in his/her own country no Latvian could express openly their hostility towards any Russian. But I was a perfect target - a Latvian speaking with a Russian accent. And so the bottled up resentment was unleashed on me.

Or, perhaps I am giving political overtures to something that was more simple: I was awkward, ugly, quiet, not very bright and my Mom was a teacher at the same school (kids of teachers were also hated - they were perceived as having unfair advantage).

Whatever happened on that first day, I was not able to shake off the tag of The Other for the next 10 years, however I tried. Observing my sufferings stemming from social exclusion my Prefrontal Cortex grew to develop bias against populars. 

But wait, I just watched Blank on Blank interview with Kurt Cobain (animated by Pat Smith) and he said: " i felt so different so crazy" in school. Curt Cobain? You'd think in high school he was an incarnate of the populars, no?

Most of my friends felt different and crazy in school, excluded from the popular circles. But WHERE are those populars? Perhaps the people we perceived as populars also felt miserable and excluded? Have they lived to tell their tale?





Research on Sakhalin I

When I started to work on visual aspects of my new project I had to make sure I get visual details right. For example, what was the standard school uniform in the USSR on September 1st when I went to school for the first time? Of course, I could fake it, after all, my story is of the fantastical sort, and who cares about old school uniforms anyway, but I wanted to see if the old times could inspire me. The matter of school uniforms is not that simple in my case. 

I was born in Latvia (it was part of Soviet Union at that time) and when I was 5 my family went for work to Sakhalin, the Russian island next to Japan. Age 5 is the time when a person finally emerges from the mysterious glob of subconscious flesh that is a baby. My first solid memories are from Sakhalin. Like the first love, this island is unforgettable.

Read about Sakhalin on Wikipedia

Read about Sakhalin on Wikipedia

If you have been to Far East you'd know how amazing the Nature is there: overwhelming with its beauty and overpowering with its forces. The amount of snow alone could kill you.

Check out Sakhalin photos on Flickr

Check out Sakhalin photos on Flickr

But back to school uniforms. Despite the dangers of unsupervised childhood (my parents had to leave me and my sister alone when they went to work, because kindergartens were full and no one's ever heard of babysitters in the good old USSR) I survived and reached the mature age of 7 when by the law of the land I was required to go to school. I put on the uniform and went with my older sister.

Upon my arrival the school immediately pointed out at everything that was odd and irregular about me: I didn't know which hand was right or left, my cotton tights weren't so tight and kept sliding down in folds of an accordion and I didn't have any books nor bag with me. After all, I have spent 2 previous years in wild, like this:

But I believed in education, so I persisted. Every morning I would put the uniform on and would go to the school on a makeshift sidewalk that was supposed to keep the Forces of Nature at bay. The school eventually grew to like me. A couple of fellow classmates thought there was something special about me being a Latvian in their Russian speaking class, although by then I barely spoke any Latvian.

Then the Disaster struck: one day when I was 8 my parents packed to go back to Latvia. 
(to be continued)