Estonia submits “On the Water” for the foreign language Oscar consideration

The Estonian Film Institute has selected “On the Water”, a coming-of-age story directed by a veteran filmmaker Peeter Simm, as the country’s nomination for Best International Feature Film Academy Award.

The story of “On the Water” is based on the book of the same name by Estonian writer Olavi Ruitlane, who also wrote the script for the film.

The story of the film takes place in the Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1982 and revolves around the adventures and misfortunes of a teen called Andres, who grows up under the guidance of his caring grandmother and his grumpy grandfather, because his father disappeared to Russia and his mother fled to Sweden.

A still from Peeter Simm’s “On the Water”.

Andres and his grandparents live by the scenic Tamula Lake in Võru County and the boy’s only escape from dull life is to go fishing – he does so with a “grown-up” adult friend Kolla, whom he considers “the smartest man considered as a loony”.

In this coming-of-age story, Andres faces the usual challenges of adolescence – from first love to heartbreak, from finding his place to the difficulties of going to school, but also from the feeling of abandonment to his angry grandfather’s health worries.

Trailer of “On the Water”.

Cineuropa, a European portal dedicated to cinema, said in its review of “On the Water” that “while the film’s themes are definitely not the most original, three things make this piece stand out from the rest of the genre: the Estonian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) setting, curious for a coming-of-age picture, well rendered by excellent production design; the numerous echoes from the 1970s and 1980s late Soviet comedies, particularly visible in terms of style, score and comedic devices; and the sporadic but effective presence of black humour”.

A veteran filmmaker

“On the Water” is the veteran Estonian film director’s eleventh full feature film. Simm, who graduated from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow in 1976, became well-known in Estonia with his 1980 directorial debut, “Ideal Landscape” – a film critical of the communist intervention in traditional Estonian rural affairs. Subsequently, the movie was banned in the Soviet Union; “Ideal Landscape” is now considered as one of the best Estonian films of all time.

Simm has also directed an all-family adventure movie, “Arabella, the Pirate’s Daughter”, and “Georg”, a movie about the legendary Estonian singer Georg Ots.

Peeter Simm. Photo by Ave Maria Mõistlik, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

The Estonian Film Institute is a national foundation financed mainly by the country’s culture ministry. Among other things, the institute is responsible of an incentive support scheme Film Estonia, through which film and TV production companies can receive a cash rebate of up to 30% on eligible local production spend.

Estonia has been in the final five once

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will honour the best films released since 1 March 2021 and is scheduled to take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California on 27 March 2022.

In 2015, the Estonian/Georgian co-production, “Tangerines”, was in the final five nominees in the category for Best Foreign Language Film (now known as Academy Award for Best International Feature Film) – the first (and so far, the last) time an Estonian movie had ever been awarded such an honour. 

Cover: A still from Peeter Simm’s “On the Water”.

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