Comedy drama “Kalamaja Blues” launches this autumn 

“Kalamaja Blues”, an Estonian mini-web series in collaboration with Finnish broadcaster Yle, that is launching this autumn, has a “Friends” and “Seinfeld” energy, according to its director Vivian Säde.

The comedy-drama premieres in the autumn and is set in one of Tallinn’s most colourful districts known for its wooden houses, industrial heritage and bohemian hangouts.

Säde got the idea for a day-in-the-life of a group of friends while living in Kalamaja’s Kalevi street and viewers will recognise other well-known local streets such as Kopli, Salme and Tööstuse.

Säde is also the writer behind Kalamaja Blues. “You know, Estonians are so funny – without realising it! I want it to have a ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends’ energy but I also want a comedy-drama which tackles serious themes of love, on-off relationships, anxiety and LGBTQ themes,” she told Estonian World. The story focuses on cool, arty Olli (Annabel Tanila) and her less cool cousin, Manna, played by Grete Alavere.

Olli (left, played by Annabel Tanila) and Manna (right, played by Grete Alavere).

An initial five part series will premiere in the autumn on the Instagram account @areena.stories. The Estonian production company behind it is Moondustfilms and according to producer Eve Tisler, YLE wanted to create quality mini fiction for young adults on social media and not just on a broadcast or streaming service.

“People will be able to share it and comment on it. We hope after the initial five episodes to take it to festivals and it might end up on TV as well,” she said.

International production

The fresh, new format presents some challenges. For Säde, each episode has to end with a cliffhanger to keep the Instagram audience engaged. It is quite a departure for the filmmaker and a graduate of Tallinn University’s Baltic Film and Media School whose previous films include “It’s About a Wedding”. Cinematographer Andres Arukask has to shoot it for the small screen in the expectation that people will also want to see it on a bigger screen. Initially in Estonian, it is hoped it will also have English subtitles when it launches at festivals.

“Kalamaja Blues is AreenaStories’ first international production, and collaborating with Vivian and producer Eve has been not only smooth and seamless but also enjoyable. We’re eagerly looking forward to the outcome and the feedback it receives from both Finland and Estonia and internationally,” Hyppe Salmi, an executive producer of Yle Drama, said.

Houses in Kalamaja’s Kalevi street. Photo by Iifar, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 EE licence.

A sneak preview of behind-the-scenes filming can be seen at @kalamajablues on Instagram.

From a fishing village to “hipsterville”

Historically, Kalamaja (Estonian for Fish House) accommodated fishermen’s villages, but when Tallinn was connected to Saint Petersburg by rail in 1870 and the nearby central railway station (Baltic Station) was built, the area changed immensely.

The industrial revolution and factories needed workers, so extensive apartment buildings were erected in the end of the 19th century. Much of the housing stock was built between 1890 and 1940, mostly apartment buildings in timber and brick.

Houses in Kalamaja, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo by Transly Translation Agency on Unsplash.

During the Soviet occupation, Kalamaja was seen as a somewhat run-down, undesirable neighbourhood – the communist utopia favoured large apartment blocks in the new districts, such as Mustamäe, instead – but during the last decade, the area became ultra-trendy and is now locally known as the “hipsterville” of Tallinn.

Home to about 10,000 people, the neighbourhood is located just a stone’s throw from the historical town centre, on the coast of the Tallinn Bay, while also having an excellent tram connection. The Telliskivi Creative City – the former industrial complex that has been turned into the creative centre of Estonia where artists, music promoters and community activists mingle with the startup community – is also next door.

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