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by Kathryn Loggins

Viesturs Kairišs, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland 2022

In January of 1991, the USSR attempted to violently takeover power in The Baltics, including Latvia. Despite a promise of non-violence, the USSR’s forces strategically attacked Latvian authorities and buildings of importance to the government. In response to these attacks, Latvian civilians resisted and put-up barricades around these targeted areas in order to fight for their independence and freedom. Thousands upon thousands of people flooded into the capitol to help man the barricades, effectively holding back the USSR’s forces and attempts to overthrow their legally elected government.

JANUARY, a somewhat autobiographical film by Viesturs Kairišs, is set during this exact time period and follows Jazis, a young filmmaker, who is eager to capture live footage of the struggles of the Latvian people against the USSR. He’s nineteen years old and still trying to figure out his role in this political conflict, in his career, and in his love life. He attends film school at the behest of his father and meets Anna, with whom he becomes fascinated with. Her carefree lifestyle intoxicates him and for a while, they embrace the freedom of young adulthood and the joys of young love. But as the political tensions begin to rise in the cities, Jazis and Anna have to grow up and confront their convictions and beliefs, even if it means going against their friends, families, and even each other. The stark landscape and rugged cinematography give this film a realistic quality that matches the tone of the film beautifully. It is a fascinating coming-of-age tale set against a historical backdrop not often depicted in film. JANUARY won the Award for Best International Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Festival. (KL)