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Film director Mārtiņš Grauds. Photo from the personal archive

As I heard a grandmother say, you can choose not to show up at a birthday or wedding, but you must be present at the cemetery festival! There was something Felliniesque about the people I met.

What is unique about cemetery festivals in Latvia?

In Latvia, people pay more attention to cemetery festivals than in any other cemetery culture I’ve ever seen.

One thing is remembering the departed, another is the unique socialization at the event, where a remembrance of the dead has turned into a festival for the living. 

Every summer people come together at the cemeteries to meet, remember, talk, and gossip. This is the people’s mentality and their historical situation. Of course, remembrance of the dead takes place all over the world, but nowhere else have I seen such beautiful gardening, such unique traditions. In Mexico there is just one day, Dia del Muertos, in October, but in Latvia these festivals take place from summer through late fall.

Paradoxically, when searching for financing from the State Culture Capital Foundation, my idea was rejected with the argument that the theme wasn’t actual. Of course, I know that they write this to everybody who doesn’t receive financing, but in this case it was tragicomic.

Will this photo project and these recorded moments be a full discoverer of national characteristics?

Right now we’re talking to the designers Rūta and Artis Brieži, working on selection, and paying special attention to make sure that the festivities are understood as best as possible. And what won’t be reflected in the pictures will be reflected in the text, which is an important component of the book.

Do people grieve at cemetery festivals?

If the person passed away only recently, then of course. Then the mood at the gravesite is different from the mood at the neighboring plot, where people have come together at the grave of a grandmother who lived a long and colorful life, which we can only delight over. 

Are the photographs sorrowful?

I’ve never consciously searched for sorrow, though there are photographs of sorrowful people.

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