LOLITA RITMANIS Film Composer Interview — Award-Winning Composer Champions Gender Parity

Editor’s Note:  Picture This Post recently reviewed Lolita Ritmanis’ latest films Blizzard of Souls and Wild DaZe.

Read the related articles— WILD DAZE Film Review — If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Cannot Change You and BLIZZARD OF SOULS Film Review — Bringing Latvia’s Origin Story to Life

Lolita Ritmanis is an award winning film and television composer known for storytelling abilities ranging from emphasizing the animated heroics on the small screen in her Daytime Emmy Award winning work on Batman Beyond to her award-winning score for the grand war time epic, Blizzard of Souls. Ritmanis’ success is especially impressive within the context of her position as a celebrated and prominent female composer in an industry vastly dominated by men. Ritmanis notes, “simply being who I am is somewhat political.” Picture This Post (PTP) talks to Lolita Ritmanis (LR) about her position as a female film composer, her work to champion women in her industry and her most recent creative endeavors in the films Blizzard of Souls and Wild DaZe.

(PTP) How do you think your personal trajectory is informed by being a woman in film composing?

(LR) Being a woman of course is one aspect of my identity. It is only one aspect of who I am, but I believe that the opportunity to present a human perspective should mirror the gender ratio in our society, closer to 50/50. It is not that every woman has some sort of specific female perspective, but societally we should embrace amplifying the perspectives of artists of diverse backgrounds with a focus toward equally representing those perspectives. We are a tapestry of many voices.

I have composed music in many genres, everything from hit superhero television shows, to concert works performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, to most recently the epic World War I film: Blizzard of Souls. Most likely, the fact that I have been working, and earning a living in the field of composing for film and television since my mid-twenties, has shined a spotlight on the fact that I have achieved a certain level of success in an area dominated by men. It has not been a conscious effort to choose to be political.  Simply being who I am is somewhat political!! My mentor, the late great Shirley Walker was a true icon in our community. She led by example, by being a brilliant composer, a master of her craft, a strong businesswoman, and a mentor.

I have the utmost of respect for my male colleagues. I believe that by striving for gender parity we elevate the entire field of composing. I hope that with my work as a composer, and as an advocate I can do some good towards creating a more even playing field.

Can you please explain to our readers what the Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC) is and how the organization has evolved? 

Laura Karpman, Miriam Cutler, Chandler Poling and I founded the Alliance for Women Film Composers in 2014 out of a need and desire to raise visibility and create opportunity for female film composers. Historically the world of composing for film, television and video games has been dominated by men. This does not mean that there is a lack of female film composers. It has however reflected an unconscious bias, and sometimes a very conscious bias, a bias that has led to a lack of inclusivity and opportunity for women film composers.

The AWFC set out to change the landscape of equity in music for visual media. What began as a series of informal meetings, turned into organization, education, amplification, and opportunity.

Laura Karpman served as president from 2014 - 2016, followed by yours truly (Lolita Ritmanis) from 2016 - 2018, and Starr Parodi from 2018 to now. During my presidency our membership increased to 400 plus members. I understand that our membership is well over 500 now, including chapters in many other countries.

I do see progress. More and more women are scoring independent films, TV series, games. The top grossing feature films have a long way to go toward gender parity. The momentum however cannot be stopped. Women composers are rising in the ranks and are beginning to chip away at the barriers that have been in place for a long time.  It is only a matter of time before discussions about gender parity will be a thing of the past. Mentoring women who are beginning to carve out careers in this field, as well as amplifying the work of already successful women in the world of film scoring is making a difference. It is not only the twenty-year-olds, fresh out of college whom we must amplify and celebrate. We must also fight against ageism in our field and lift up the women who have been stuck in the middle without opportunities to advance to higher profile projects.

What was it like creatively working on a Latvian film, Blizzard of Souls, as a Latvian American?

A great story, beautiful cinematography, strong performances translate in any language. The fact that I travelled several times to Latvia for Blizzard of Souls, where most of my other work happens in Los Angeles was a big difference and change in my day-to-day routine. I composed every note of the score, taking great care with all the details.

Composing the music for Blizzard of Souls was a passion project, and an immense responsibility. Produced and filmed entirely in Latvia, the birthplace of my parents, drew me in to this project to begin with. Director Dzintars Dreibergs contacted me about 5 years ago. We began a preliminary dialogue back then, but the actual work began in March of 2019, when I flew to Riga, Latvia to review the rough cut of the film with Dzintars. Once we developed a comfort zone for communication and collaboration, I flew back to LA, and the next 5 months were spent communicating via emails, Skype, and by uploading files back and forth. In July of 2019 we recorded 70 minutes of the symphonic score with 100 artists - orchestra plus the award-winning State Choir Latvia. We recorded at Latvia Radio. 1. studio. The score was produced by yours truly and Mark Mattson.

This is a very personal coming-of-age story of a young boy who is going through five hard years of WWI. Blizzard of Souls is an adaptation of Aleksandrs Grins’ novel, written in the trenches by the author, a Latvian soldier in the First World War. The book was forbidden throughout the Soviet Union.

The accolades and awards I have received for my score for Blizzard of Souls have meant a great deal to me. I am not an award person per se, but with this film, this score, the acknowledgement of my peers has been extremely moving for me. I truly am thrilled that my peers watched the film and/or listened to the soundtrack. Of course, I am excited to be on the Oscar short-list. It is a dream I did not even consider. That is what has made this past stretch of time so miraculous. I am very proud of that score. The gift was in the creation of the work. The awards are above and beyond.

Can you also share with Picture This Post readers what your creative process was like for the film Wild DaZe?

Wild DaZe is the brainchild of Phyllis Stuart. Wild DaZe was also a deeply satisfying experience - working solo with Phyllis, seeking to find the right tone for her beautiful documentary. Her passion to save the African wildlife and protect women, children and indigenous forest peoples was the guiding force behind this project. For the last six years, Phyllis created a film that focused on the many threats facing African wildlife including human population explosion, human / wildlife conflict, climate change, trophy hunting, poaching, rebel militias, and crime and corruption. I was brought on to the project when it was near completion. I offered Phyllis some of my pre-existing music as a temporary guide to use for inspiration. Once she had completed editing, the process of composing an original score began.

In the midst of our current times in the pandemic, what do you hope for your professional and creative trajectory as a film composer?

I have been blessed to have many opportunities to score for the small screen. In my work in superhero animation, I am so grateful to work alongside my partners Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter, both of whom are brilliant composers. We have carved out a niche that has brought tremendously gratifying work opportunities for projects such as Batman: The Killing Joke, Teen Titans, Avengers Assemble to name but a few. Having our team,  Dynamic Music Partners, in place allows us to also preserve a quality of life, by making it possible to take time to pursue individual projects, or to take a break when needed. I work out of my home studio anyway, so in that sense the pandemic has not changed my routine. I, along with the rest of the world have been taking meetings via ZOOM. It is great that we have had that platform available. I do miss the casual human contact, or losing myself in a large movie theatre, or concert hall. I am very much looking forward to the return of that normalcy. That, and a return to travel! Surprise me, Universe! Bring me something that will elevate my talent, elevate my career, and challenge me to compose my best score yet!

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Photos Courtesy of Lolita Ritmanis.

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