In the cold and dark Estonian November evenings, the Black Nights Film Festival – known as PÖFF, for short, in Estonian – lends its helping hand to those who seek escapism from a world that appears to grow more unstable by the hour; from 3-19 November, the cinemas in Tallinn screen over 200 films from more than 70 countries, as well as host talks, parties and various other events.
A hunger for film
When the Black Nights Film Festival was called to life in 1997 by Tiina Lokk, the festival’s director, Estonia was a struggling country still trying to build itself from ground up after only six years of regained independence. The funds and attention of the country were placed elsewhere at the time, which made organising a film event difficult, since cinema culture was virtually dying out.
The local film industry was non-existent; a lot of cinemas were shut down while only a few remained to show Hollywood blockbusters. Film was not a medium people were passionate about, especially alternative films.
The desire for a cinema culture, however, must have been bubbling somewhere under the surface, since nearly 5,000 viewers turned up for the first PÖFF event. The 25 featured full-length films had lured such a crowd; hence it became obvious there was an actual demand that had to be catered for. From then on, the Black Nights Film Festival has steadily grown and bolstered up to be a world class film festival.
An A-class festival status
In 2014, the event was given an A-class festival status by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations. This official recognition means a formal right to put together a thematically and geographically unlimited film programme.
The A-class status conveys the film industry’s trust, respect and recognition of the festival’s quality and reputation. The Black Nights Film Festival is in a fine company, sharing the status with Cannes, Venice and Berlin festivals, among others.
Even though compared with Cannes, the Black Nights Film Festival imminently lacks sunshine and glamourous evenings with fancily clad film stars gracing the red carpet, the festival manages to do an amazing job on a significantly smaller budget whilst keeping the ticket prices reasonable, making films easily accessible for the filmgoers.
The aim of the festival is to present a comprehensive selection of world cinema from the last two years to a local and international audience, offering fresh film production with high artistic value.
This year’s focus region is Serbia
The 27th edition of the festival will take place from 3 to 19 November and will feature 185 feature films from 73 countries. In addition, Youth and Children sub-festival Just Film will show 51 feature films, 37 shorts, and 6 animated films, and PÖFF Shorts sub-festival will present 240 short films.
Fifty-one world premieres and 24 international premieres will be screened. In addition to five competition programmes, there are 14 side programmes. This includes Best Of Festivals, the collection of award-winning films from 2023, Doc@PÖFF and Screen International Critic’s Choice.
This year’s focus region is Serbia and the South-East European countries. The focus programme consists of fresh works from Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and North-Macedonia.
Additionally, Yugoslavian Black Wave retrospective is an ode to the Yugoslavian new-wave cinema from the 1960-1970s.