Thinking of Valdis Basens (1946-2020)
When I opened my e-mail box in the early morning of the 17th of May I saw I had received a message of Marilem Ferentinos. The subject was Valdis and I could see the first line: It is with deep sorrow… And then I knew, but just couldn’t believe it.
I met Valdis at the gala banquet in Boston in 2018, which was part of the Baltic Centennial celebrations. I’m almost tempted to say we met on the dancefloor, but this was not the case, as he was introduced to me by Marilem, one of the organisers, at the dinnertable. But yes later, we danced; we all danced.
Next morning I went with Valdis and Marilem to the Paramount theatre where my film about Geislingen was being screened. There they introduced me to their friends, who were all so familiar with one another, having grown up at the same place: Seabrook Farms.
I listened to the stories about this farm, which was in fact a plant, and the life they had lived there. Valdis knew names, numbers, could add details to memories. He seemed to remember everything and he had so much to tell that we moved from the theatre to a café to continue the conversation.
Not long after that meeting I decided to make a film about Seabrook Farms. Straight away I started to organise research and a trip to Seabrook, but Valdis was always a step ahead of me, suggesting literature, places to visit and people I really needed to speak to. I never had such an enthusiastic and helpful introduction to a subject I wanted to make a film about.
He sent elaborate e-mails and while he apologised that these were getting far too long, (he wrote: You are probably gasping, "Oh, no! Another e-mail from Valdis!" ) it didn’t prevent him from writing many more long messages, which, by the way, were a joy to receive.
The result was a perfectly organised trip to Seabrook. But you can’t be in control of everything. Valdis warned: There is a big storm that will be working its way up north from the Bahamas and may or may not affect travelling conditions along the East Coast during the next week or so. Let's hope for the best.
We all arrived safe and sound. Together with Marilem and Indrek Ojamaa,who had also been raised in Seabrook, and the camera crew, we could stay at the house of Robert Dragotta. The days were warm, even hot and humid. We worked long hours, but nonetheless it felt like a summer camp.
As good an organiser as Valdis was, when it came to practical matters he seemed somewhat helpless. The best way, we found, to organise the evenings was to sit him at the table, with a glass of wine and while we organised the kitchen, we let him tell his stories.
Towards the end of the afternoon,on the last day in Robert’s house, I had planned to film an interview with Valdis, Marilem and Indrek. I wanted to film in the gazebo, an idyllic, romantic place, surrounded by water.
The weather forecasts showed that a storm was heading in our direction, and was expected around 8 p.m. We would have two hours to record the stories, as it was not quite 6 o’clock but when we sat down, lights all ready and microphones set up, a sudden gust ofwind made the lamps swing and spoil the shot. The storm had arrived early and we were too late.
We were expecting friends for dinner but we all thought we would have time to do the interviews if we were quick, so we ran into the kitchen and set up camera and lights. We made do without the beautiful gazebo and treated the filming like a dry run for a later date, when we would redo the interviews in a better location. We were all convinced there would still be time. Little did we know….
Valdis introduced me to the history of Seabrook, the communities, the places, in such a way that he made it easy for me to carry on without him. But I still have many questions I would have loved to ask him. I know I will miss the stories he would have told. I know I’m going to miss his warm and charming personality.
But I know as well, that when we are able to continue the project again, he will certainly be with us in someway.