Whether a visitor drawn to what the professional film community in Moscow referred to “Riga de Janeiro” or a Riga resident, one could escape drab Soviet normaility via the city’s hippie flaneurs, who wore flamboyant clothing and Flower Power facepaint, spoke in slang, staged informal theater performances in public squares and cafés, held jazz jam sessions and art events in private flats, gathered on the seashore for happenings, and attended discreetly organized foreign film screenings. By the late 1960s, Riga had become one of the epicenters of pan-Soviet youth counterculture and Andris Grīnbergs, trained in men’s fashion design and naturally skilled at provocation, was acknowledged as a visible local ringleader.
Film proved to be an unparalleled vehicle for such influences. The greatest impact was exerted by films from abroad celebrating alienated youth and featuring commensurately alien visual tropes and narratives, namely the French New Wave movies and pictures by Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Semi-clandestine screenings were organized in the small Riga Cinema House, in the medieval quarter, near the hippies’ principal gathering spots. These events, quietly publicized among Cinematographers Union members and their friends, featured so-called “circle films:” foreign films whose circulation had been limited to higher profile Soviet film festivals and nation-specific film days in Moscow and Leningrad as evidence of official tolerance of liberal values. Such prints were subsequently stolen, stashed in state film repositories, and circulated surreptitiously along with films deemed outright illegal within the Soviet Union, but copied during their screenings in Bulgarian, Czechoslovakian, Polish, and Hungarian cinematheques and passed to Riga through unofficial Soviet channels.