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Beta Film Picks Up ‘Soviet Jeans’ Ahead of Series Mania, Reveals Stills of an ‘Unconventional’ Take on Soviet Latvia – With a Touch of ‘Finding Nemo’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Beta Film has picked up international distribution rights to Latvia’s “Soviet Jeans.” Presented at Berlinale Series Market Selects, the show will premiere at Series Mania in March. 

Set in Riga in the late 1970s and based on multiple true stories, it zooms in onto young rock fan Renars (Karlis Arnolds Avots), sent to a mental asylum for political reasons. Undeterred, he starts illegal production of counterfeit U.S. jeans with his inmates, flooding the black market. 

“We wanted to make it international,” said Teodora Markova who showruns alongside Stanislavs Tokalovs. They wrote the script with Waldemar Kalinowski. 

“We also decided to go for a completely different tone when depicting this period, which so often is shown in this harsh, gloomy way. People used to joke during communism too: Humor was their main survival mechanism. They still lived and loved and laughed. Most of them had to learn how to trick the system, which was really our starting point.” 

Still, the realities of Soviet Latvia will be mirrored in the series, assured Tokalovs, who also co-directs alongside Juris Kursietis. 

“It’s a story based in a specific place, at a specific time. Soviet Latvia was different from Soviet Russia. There was a little more freedom. It was about finding this balance between not romanticizing the Soviet Union and showing that many still tried to live their life in the best possible way.” 

Soviet Jeans
Credit: Tasse Film

Produced by Tasse Film, the series also stars Igors Selegovskis, Andris Keiss and “Girl Picture” breakout Aamu Milonoff as a girl who sees right through Renars’ façade. 

“This relationship is the engine of the story. I hope the viewers will live this love story – live it, not just watch it,” said Markova. 

But following the initial spark, the pair has to face separation.

“It’s funny, because when we were still writing, one script doctor provided a rather unusual example: ‘Finding Nemo’. There are some similarities, because even though they are apart, they also try to connect,” laughed Tokalovs. 

“Every character here clings to some illusional freedom. It can be rock music or a piece of chocolate. We know that so many appalling things took place back then, especially at these mental asylums. But we still tried to look for absurdities in every situation. The fact that a pair of pants was viewed as more dangerous than a gun gave us the tone of the story,” noted Markova. 

“When we were writing these characters, we loved each one of them. They are not good or bad: They are victims of this oppressive system, living in a fog but pretending they can control their own lives. Renars starts as this trickster and then becomes a rebel. We wanted the viewers to feel there is hope: You can find strength and freedom within yourself.”

According to Tokalovs, the priority was to step away from a more classical approach to historical films or shows. 

“We tried to have energy in every single shot, in every camera movement. We never wanted it to feel ‘old.’ You need to get your facts straight, but also remember it’s a story told now. It needed a modern angle in order to become universal.”

“This energy was already here, in this region. It’s not fictional,” adds Markova, eager to explore the story further in possible future seasons.

“We felt this story was unconventional. Coming from different post-Soviet countries, we all had our own tales. My parents were rock fans too and they had friends arrested for playing the Beatles.”

Tokalovs credits the “internationality” of the team as one reason for the show’s success. 

“Everyone brought something else to the table. It’s my first series, but Teodora already had a lot of experience and a deep understanding of how we should proceed. I had to ask her to join us.” 

“And I refused, because I was busy. Then he called again,” smiled Markova, who hails from Bulgaria and is behind “War of Letters” and “Undercover.” 

“Coming from the Balkans and meeting the Latvian way of thinking, it all brought diversity to these characters. I believe we created something interesting. There is passion in it.” 

“With its nostalgic, humoristic approach, ‘Soviet Jeans’ caught our attention immediately,” Veronika Kovacova, Beta EVP sales & acquisitions, observed. “It offers a timeless view and hits a totally different tonality compared to most shows about the Soviet era. With a storyline more relevant than ever, I’m certain it will fascinate audiences around the globe.”

Soviet Jeans
Credit: Tasse Film