Juris Podnieks was born in Riga, Latvia in 1950. He graduated from the celebrated Soviet film school, VGIK, in 1975. He went to wrok at the Riga Film Studio, first as assistant cameraman, then as cameraman before finally becoming a director in 1979.

His first production the "Cradle" won a prize at the Leipzig Festival, and shortly afterwards "The Brothers Kokar" took first prize at the Kiev Youth Festival in 1981.
In the same year he received wide recognition inside and outside of the Soviet Union for his film "Constellation of Riflemen" which won honours in the 17th All State Festival in Leningrad, and also the Latvia Komsomol prize.
Juris Podnieks
director of photography
1986 Is It Easy to Be Young?

The Stone of Sisyphus

1984 Commander

1982 Constellation of Riflemen
Under the sign of Sagittarlus



1979 Mount Boys
On your horses, lads!

1978 Brothers Kokari
The film which first won international recognition was "Is It Easy To Be Young?", which exploded many popular myths about Soviet Youth. Juris happened to shoot some footage of young people at a rock concert in July 1985, which achieved some notoriety because a train returning to Riga afterwards was badly vandalized. He tracked down some of the youngsters and questioned them about their lives and aspirations. Two of them were among seven tried and convicted of criminal damage on the train, and Juris managed to bluff his way into the courtroom to film the trial. The film broke box-office records in the Soviet Union and was later shown accross the world.
As the Soviet Empire crumbled, Juris Podnieks was there as a witness for the world, brave, unblinking and compassionate. Podnieks‘ collaborations with British Television (Central TV and Channel 4) gave the British viewers insights and perceptions into events inside the Soviet Union which British film-makers would not have been able to give. "Hello, Do You Hear Us?" a five part documentary, was filmed over a three year period: showing unrest in Uzbekistan, survivors of the earthquake in Armenia, striking workers in Yaroslavl and former residents returning to Chernobyl. "Red Hot", the first film in the series, was awarded the coveted Prix Italia.
Podnieks‘ later films were constructed around the rising tide of nationalism in the Baltic States. "Homeland" was an inspiring record of the outpouring of feeling accompanying folk festivals in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania at which hauting ly beautiful songs banned for 50 years were sung by massed choirs.

While filming the follow-up to "Homeland", Podnieks and his crew came under sniper fire during the Soviet coup in Riga. Juris was beaten up. Andris Slapins, a long time friend and collaborator was killed instantly and Gvido Zvaigzne, who had worked with Juris filming, "Hello, Do You Hear Us?", died later from his injuries. The incident was captured on video and was broadcast as a post-script to "Homeland". Juris subsequently recut this material as an introduction to a revised version of "Homeland".

Podnieks used a mixture of interviews, music and archive footage to create a uniquely poetic form of documentary without the intrusion of voice-over. Powerful images, rhythmic editing, potent use of music and natural sound all woven together with the care of a perfectionist and the narrative skill of a novelist, meant that Juris was without doubt a unique genius as a film-maker.

Even more remarkably, every frame in every film was shot through with Juris the man. His compassion, bravery and warmth were evident in everything he did. His care for his fellow human beings was as evident in his friendships as in his films.

The fragile thread of Juris Podnieks‘ life was broken without warning in a diving accident on June 23, 1992. The world misses him as a film-maker. His friends miss him as a friend.

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