Estonian film

James Cameron to film “Avatar 4” in Estonia

James Cameron, one of the most successful movie directors of all time, announced that the fourth sequel in the Avatar film series will be filmed near Navi village in Estonia.*

Cameron made the announcement at a press conference in Hollywood on 31 March. “We considered various locations around the world and it wasn’t until I bumped into an old friend of mine from Canada (Cameron grew up in Ontario, Canada – editor) that Estonia as a possible location came up,” Cameron said.

Asked to specify, the film director, famous for such blockbusters as “The Terminator”, “Aliens”, “True Lies” and “Titanic” – in addition to “Avatar” – explained that his old friend stemmed from the Estonian-Canadian family and has recently resettled to southern Estonia. His friend shared the old Estonian folk tales with Cameron and also showed the pictures of sacred trees, which are still common in Estonia even today.

“To be honest, I didn’t know anything about Estonia before – but hearing the stories on how for Estonians, their god was in nature, made me realise that there is an interesting connection between the fictional Naʼvi species in Avatar and Estonians,” Cameron said. “The Naʼvi way of life revolves around the Home tree. And the ancient Estonians had a god called Tharapita who was worshiped in forest groves. They also have old folk tales, in which the sins of humans resonate in nature – lakes fly away to punish greedy villagers, or forests wander off in the night, never to return.”

Cameron added that another similarity with the fictional Naʼvi species was how Estonians felt that their way of life and nature was threatened. “The Estonians once started a ‘phosphorite war’ against the Soviet Union – an environmental protest against the opening of large phosphorite mines in the country. Now this nation is apparently concerned about losing its forests,” he said.

Navi village

Cameron said that, to his surprise, there was even a village called Navi in Estonia (Navi is in Võru County in south-eastern Estonia and currently has a population of just over 260 people – editor). “That they [Estonians] have a Navi village, amused me, of course. But then I realised that the surrounding area would also make a perfect filming spot and I asked my team to get in touch with the Estonian film institutions,” he said.

Cameron added that other factors helped to sway his decision to shoot one of Avatar’s sequels in Estonia. “They have pretty experienced local film crews, apparently – it turns out that they have made films for over 100 years in that tiny country.”

The film director behind the epic science fiction films is currently filming “Avatar 2” and “Avatar 3”, in California and in New Zealand. The “Avatar 4” shooting will start in Estonia as soon as the previous sequels wrap filming and is due to be released in 2024.

The first “Avatar” was released in 2009 and became the highest-grossing film of all time, having grossed $2.788 billion to date. The film is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonising Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the mineral unobtanium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na’vi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora.

James Cameron found major success after directing and writing the science fiction action film “The Terminator” (1984). He is the fourth highest-grossing film director worldwide, after Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Michael Bay.

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Cover: A screenshot from “Avatar” (the image is illustrative). * Please note that this article was April Fool’s Day story. 

Estonian-Georgian movie “Tangerines” in IMDb top 250

The Estonian-Georgian movie, “Tangerines”, has entered the IMDb top 250, the list credited as being the ranking of the best movies in the world.

“Tangerines”, directed by the Georgian director, Zaza Urushadze, and starring Estonian actors Lembit Ulfsak (1947 – 2017) and Elmo Nüganen, is ranked 248th in the Internet Movie Database top 250.

The IMDb top 250 is a list of the top rated 250 films, based on ratings by the registered users of the website. As of 25 March 2018, “The Shawshank Redemption” is number one on the list, followed by “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”.

“Tangerines” is preceded in the list by “Before Sunset” and followed by “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”.

Most successful film involving Estonian filmmakers

“Tangerines” is the most successful film involving Estonian filmmakers, notching up tens of international awards since 2013. The film is a haunting tale of an older Estonian man who cares for two wounded soldiers from opposite sides of the 1990s-era war in Georgia. The true part of the story is that there were indeed Estonian villages in the area. However, once the war started, most of the Estonians who had settled there, returned to their homeland.

The movie was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2015. It is also often aired on Epix, an American premium cable and satellite television network that is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

IMDb, also known as Internet Movie Database, is an online database of information related to world films, television programs, home videos and video games and internet streams, including cast, production crew, personnel and fictional character biographies, plot summaries, trivia, and fan reviews and ratings.

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Cover: Screenshot from the “Tangerines”.

“November” cinematography awarded in the US

Mart Taniel has received the American Society of Cinematographers’ Spotlight Award for his work as the cinematographer of the Estonian movie, “November”.

The award is one of the highest honours given out by the members the American Society of Cinematographers.

The award was given to Taniel by cinematographer and the society’s president, John Bailey, who described “November” as “extraordinarily well-considered beauty in every shot that should inspire us all”.

Taniel gave an emotional speech at the award ceremony, finishing off with, “now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go home and have a heart attack”.

“Even being a candidate was a big honour considering the other nominations. Of course, I’m happy. But this honour has to be shared with Rainer Sarnet [the director of “November”], the man who imagined this world, described it to me and allowed me to be inspired by it,” Taniel added.

The Spotlight Award honours cinematographers who are not members of the American Society of Cinematographers and to films made outside of the United States. Taniel competed against Máté Herbai (for the film “On Body and Soul”, directed by Ildikó Enyedi) and Mikhail Krichman (for “Loveless”, directed by Andrei Zvjagintsev).

Reaching the American filmgoers

“November” also won the Best Cinematography award in the International Narrative Feature Film category at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Shot in black and white, “November” is based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel “Rehepapp” and was co-produced by Estonia, the Netherlands and Poland. Based loosely on the historical background of Estonia and the ancient beliefs of its people, the film mixes the Estonian pagan and European Christian mythologies. As the filmmakers say, “both mythologies look for a miracle; for an ancient force that gives one a soul. This film is about souls – longing for a soul, selling your soul and living without a soul.”

“November” will premier in North American cinemas on 23 February 2018.

The American Society of Cinematographers’ award ceremony took place in Los Angeles on 17 February. The society’s award for an American film went to Roger Deakins for the film “Blade Runner 2049”.

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Cover: A screenshot from “November”. Read also: The romantic pragmatic – Estonian cameraman Mart Taniel.

An Estonian-Canadian-Croatian collaboration is up for a European animation award

“Manivald”, a 13-minute animation directed by Chintis Lundgren and co-produced by Canada, Croatia and Estonia, is a nominee at the European Animation Awards competition.

This article is published in collaboration with the Estonian Film Institute.

Directed by Estonian-born Chintis Lundgren, the animation is a tragicomic story of the 33-year old Manivald who gets into a confusing love triangle with his mother and a hot young wolf. The film has screened at over 30 film festivals around the world and so far has already won eight awards. It is currently a nominee in the “Best Background & Character Design in an Animated Short Film” category at the European Animation Awards competiton. Maria Ulfsak caught up with Lundgren to talk about the filmmaker’s craft.

Please tell us a bit about your background. You did not study animation in the first place; how did you end up in animation?

I ended up in animation quite accidentally. I studied at an underground performance art-oriented school called Non Grata in Estonia and spent the first seven years of my career painting. But then I had a creative crisis and started playing around with animation, it was just for fun and I thought I would go back to painting later. I never did because I discovered that animation was so much more fun and also a lot more rewarding. Going to festivals and drinking vodka with other filmmakers, seeing tons of amazing films and interacting with the public are the best things ever.

What was the initial impulse for “Manivald”?

It started with the character. I had been making one-picture comics with a cast of anthropomorphic animals (Manivald and the Absinthe Rabbits) and putting these on Facebook. I noticed that people really liked these and decided to develop some of the stories further. My previous film, “Life with Herman H. Rott”, also comes from this universe. The film did well at festivals and it made perfect sense to continue and make a film about another character from that world.

Please tell us a bit about the working process of “Manivald”.

One day after finishing “Life with Herman H. Rott” I already knew what the story for the next film would be. It seemed like an easy job to write it into a script and start animating. The first draft came quite quickly and I secured some financing from Estonia and Croatia with that.

Just when I was ready to start animating, I met Jelena Popović from the NFB (the National Film Board of Canada) and she felt the story needed some polishing. Together with her, Priit and Olga Pärn (Estonian animation makers – editor) and my co-writer, Draško Ivezić, we spent close to nine months fixing all the bigger and smaller problems in the script. It’s the first time I spent more time on the script than on animating. And in the end, the story is still the same, but a lot less confusing and much more focused.

Why do you prefer to make your films about animals, not people?

I prefer to use animals because they’re easier to relate to, it’s not that hard to identify yourself with a fox or a rabbit. If I would draw a man with moustache and a bald head that would already be very specific, not everyone would see themselves in that character. And I’d like for the audience to recognise themselves and laugh over their own stupidity and problems.

What are your next projects and plans?

Together with my partner and co-writer, Draško Ivezić, we’re developing the Manivald and Absinthe Rabbits universe into a TV-series. In some way, Manivald is almost like a pilot.

The story continues after Manivald leaves home, he runs away with a gypsy band to a town called Luxlandia and ends up living in an undercover gay bar called the Hedgehog’s Closet. The place is managed by a cross-dressing hedgehog called Tiit and his wife, a conservative bear called Brunhilde who doesn’t know that her husband is a cross-dresser – or that it’s an undercover gay bar. There are a lot of troubled characters who come to this bar and Manivald, even though totally inexperienced in life himself, becomes their life coach. Also Herman and Cat, characters from my previous film, are part of the cast. The series is full of secrets and focuses around “coming out the closet”, sometimes quite literally.

We’ve been pitching the series for a while now and there is a lot of interest, people want to see it. But, of course, financing a TV-series for adults in Europe is almost a mission impossible.

The public voting of the European Animation Awards is open until 30 November and the winners will be announced at an award ceremony in Lille, France, on 8 December.

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Cover: Chintis Lundgren with the character she created, Manivald (picture by Petra Mrša). Read more from the Estonian Film Magazine. The Estonian Film Magazine is published since 2013, twice a year, by the Estonian Film Institute. Every issue informs the readers on the news about the Estonian film productions, publishes reviews of new titles and interviews with film professionals. 

Estonian documentary about Soviet hippies premieres in Brazil

“Soviet Hippies”, an Estonian documentary directed by Terje Toomistu, made its international premiere at the São Paulo International Film Festival on 24 October.

The bare fact that there was a hippie movement in the Soviet Union might come as a surprise for many. But in truth, it lasted longer than any other hippie movement in the world. Despite the authoritarian rule and the Soviet system’s desire to control – and thus limit – people’s lifestyles and world views, some young people were well aware of what was going on at the same time in the West.

Hippie culture in the Soviet Union had its own trajectory that formed along the information flows distorted by the filters of the Iron Curtain, and got twisted by the overall cultural repressions within the USSR. Coveting Western freedoms and spiritually inspired by the cultures of the East, the Soviet flower children detached themselves from the official ideology and channelled their self-expression into rock music, the cult of love, pacifism, actual and cosmic travel, and a physical appearance that was certainly considered unacceptable for a decent Soviet citizen.

Protest against the Soviet rule

Hippies stood against the established system and the values of the petite bourgeoisie, which in the West was nurtured by a consumption mentality and Christian conservatism, but on this side of the Iron Curtain rather by the red flag parade. For Soviet hippies, it was a form of passive protest against the Soviet rule. They opposed the system through symbolic expression.

But the power elite saw these “long-hairs” as “infected” by the Western influences, and as social parasites whose activities posed a political danger. This resulted in several measures designed to rein in the youth: strategic harassment by the KGB (the main security agency in the USSR), strict limits on cultural activities, censorship, expulsions based on appearance and involuntary treatment in mental hospitals.

Inspired by the past stories, the young Estonian film director, Terje Toomistu, decided to make a documentary about the Soviet-era hippies. The film had a domestic premiere in summer 2017 and is now screened across the world, having had its international premiere in São Paulo, Brazil.

“Perhaps the only actually functioning system in the Soviet Union was its distinctive network of hippies. Not only did they call themselves Sistema, but this particular self-support system connecting various drop-outs across the urban underground formed a different kind of a hippie movement that lasted through decades. Nevertheless, to be a hippie in the Soviet Union was a serious existential choice, often with no return to ‘normal’ life,” the filmmakers said. “We take you on a ride through time and space across the juxtaposed landscape of the Soviet and the endless corridors of creative minds.”

After screening in Brazil, “Soviet Hippies” will have its European premiere in Germany at DOK Leipzig, one of the oldest and largest documentary film festivals in the world.

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Cover: Estonian hippies with guru Sri Rama Michael Tamm in the middle. Images courtesy of “Soviet Hippies“. Read also: Make love, not war – hippie movement in the Estonian SSR.

A documentary about the Baltic nations’ path to independence premieres in London

“Those Who Dare”, a 52-minute documentary film that traces the Baltic nations’ path to restoring their independence from the Soviet occupation, is to premiere in London.

When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, his reform policy sparked an independence movement in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. But as cries for help from these Baltic states were met with silence from the international community at large, two small nations answered the call – Iceland and Denmark – motivated by the personal connections of their respective foreign ministers, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson and Uffe Elleman Jensen.

Ultimately, it was up to Iceland and its intrepid foreign minister, Hannibalsson, to advocate a “new security order” and to first recognise these countries’ declarations of independence in 1991. “Those Who Dare”, a 2015 joint production by Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, recounts this dramatic tale, using real footage of events as they unfolded over the two years leading to independence, as well as interviews with the major political figures of the time.

Hannibalsson and Tunne Kelam to attend

The film’s London premiere will take place at 6 PM on 17 October at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) – admission to the event is free, but external guests will have to register online by midday 17 October.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with the screenwriter, Kolfinna Baldvinsdóttir, as well as with the special guest, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, whose involvement in challenging the legacy of the Second World War helped make Baltic independence a reality. They will be joined by Tunne Kelam, a member of the European Parliament and one of the leading figures in Estonia’s quest to restore independence. The discussion will be chaired by Kristina Spohr, an associate professor in international history at the London School of Economics.

There will also be a photo exhibition entitled “Timeless Tallinn” by Estonian photographer Arne Maasik that will stay at the EBRD until 26 October.

Apart from London, “Those Who Dare” will also screen in Cambridge on 19 October.

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Cover: A group of Lithuanians protecting the Seimas Palace, the seat of the Lithuanian parliament in Vilnius, on 30 January 1991 (image courtesy of Kiur Aarma/AXFILMS).

The romantic pragmatic – Estonian cameraman Mart Taniel

Coming fresh from the Tribeca Film Festival with the best cinematographer award for his amazing work on Rainer Sarnet’s November, Mart Taniel is one of the most outstanding cameramen of his generation. In this rare interview to the photographer and video artist, Mark Raidpere, he claims to be perpetually tempted by taking chances and keeping everything loose and open until the last minute.

Abridged from an interview for the Sirp newspaper.

You have formed a successful creative tandem with Rainer Sarnet, as well as Veiko Õunpuu. You were shooting Veiko’s Empty (2006), Autumn Ball (2007), The Temptation of St. Tony (2009) and Free Range (2013), and Sarnet’s The Idiot (2011) and November (2017). How come you work so well together?

I think it deserves to be clarified. Neither Õunpuu nor Sarnet are necessarily film people. They have both done theatre as well. A film person could be described as someone who has guaranteed work and income in the industry. They use their acquired profession to earn their keep in that subject field. It is his wish, as well as the industry’s, for the things to be so. A right person having the right occupation – nigh impossible in Estonia. Being a filmmaker in Estonia means insecurity, the lack of social welfare etc. You have to be a self-sacrificing zealot to do it.

Regardless of that, it is customary for some people to pretend that we have an industry here, comparable to the Hollywood model. And that we are all filmmakers, attending to the film business. Rainer and Veiko happen to be guys who are driven by the need to tell something: film as a format comes second. Bluntly put: I like auteur cinema. Author first, then cinema.

I’m sure that a film can exist purely as such, a product. Rainer and Veiko have managed to steer clear of the whole film industry charade (given the term is justified in Estonia in the first place). I must have made the right choice somewhere down the line, or a lucky one, having crossed paths with them. They’ve enabled me to do unique and personal things and offered me intriguing, exciting projects, without me having to give too much thought to film in general.

Actually, things get really rolling around the third movie together. The first is for getting to know each other. This kind of tuning, powered by the urge to understand and define how to visualise thoughts and discussed ideas, is exciting and is there to last. I’ve had quite a bit in common with the directors I’ve worked with. It’s a big deal to have stuff to talk about outside film. Rainer is like an ark – you can never guess what’s inside. Rainer can do the whole range between a lyrical romantic and a disgusting jerk. He’s choosing blacks and whites over shades of grey. This is the essence of his passion, easily transferred to me during shooting November.

I’m also in awe of [the painter, video artist and filmmaker] Jaan Toomik, with whom I have worked as well. I don’t want to play this up too much, but the basis of all styles and approaches is just that – being in awe of something.

November contains many shots that will most likely become iconic in Estonian cinema.

Like what? I’m intrigued. What stuck in your mind?

The flying cow, the wolf on snow, the sleepwalking baroness on a rooftop at night, the emergence of the dead in the woods…

I’m not saying this out of modesty, but these things happen because they’re allowed to happen. It is Rainer first who has to be thanked for memorable shots – who has visualised that world as a director, and given me a chance to describe it and be swept away by it. The impulse was his, I just came up with the realisation in good faith that it fits his vision. You can also discuss and agree on things up to a certain point. Rainer gave me more or less free rein.

By the way, initially the media seemed to concentrate on content in feedback to November, and it gives me great comfort. It’s the worst possible thing that can happen: to have people talking about “good cinematography” when the film sucks. It doesn’t seem to be the case with November, at least judging by the first reaction.

Camerawork is very much dependent on how the director fine-tunes the cinematographer. I, too, am just an instrument in his hands. I’ve done it for a decade already and acquired an ability to observe and note constantly. But I am mainly looking from places outside film, I’m not much of a film viewer. I notice something visually interesting all the time, and it might give me a momentary aesthetic enlightenment, but doesn’t really fit anywhere as a puzzle piece. Then, sometime later, the time will be right and I will see the context for it to be fit in. Then the images need to be transferred and finally reincarnated.

The shooting period of November is rumoured to have been extraordinarily lengthy. Was it?

60 days and actually ten years. It started with the first steps in another production company, but that thing didn’t work out in the end. I saw the buzz from the sidelines and back then I was not the first choice for the DOP by far. I’m truly happy now that I was able to participate, as I remember thinking about it a lot. Besides, Rainer is a guy who I love making movies with.

Please tell about making November from a personal point of view.

A film is born from a homogenous crew. A unit where everyone knows their tasks and is willing to perform them. I am a bit of a romantic pragmatic. I’m too lazy to come up with a grand concept before the actual shoot. I feel I have ample time then, to react to all of the factors, input and details I’ve accumulated, from the story to the discussions I’ve had with the director.

Location is of prime importance: I always want it to be the real space. In time, we have selected people who share each other’s and our understanding of things. Entering a room, a space, I obtain a sort of sense of things. I cannot really explain what my decisions are based on, and how I decide where to look and what to keep in mind. My style is somewhat romantic, and even classical in its approach to frame. I want it to have depth and attraction. I am not interested in pure concept.

Filmmaking as a process should be a fun game. One important aspect is that I lose all anxiety and have complete conviction, once I’ve recognised the moment I can trust myself. I can overthrow everything we’ve agreed on up to this point. In case the initial plan doesn’t seem to work on the set, we can change it. That’s part of what an author film should be about. You allow the film to become alive.

There is a scene in November where the Plague has been defeated and Rea Lest in the role of the protagonist, understands that for her this victory looks a lot like defeat. We decided to film a close-up of Rea using the classic dolly-out shot, showing people around her jumping up and running out of the room.

Rea has a fantastic face and that would be already enough to make the short work, but while we were sliding the camera away from her, something completely unexpected happened. The door was opened and through the doorway a surge of light hit the lens, so that the whole frame seemed to be on fire. Rea’s inner world was suddenly perfectly captured in a visual metaphor. I can’t lay claim to that shot, I couldn’t have foreseen this. I am borderline esoteric in these matters: something is wrong if there are no unexpected occurrences.

Your camera-eye seems to be spontaneous and eclectic, yet rooted in traditional approach.

I want to be able to guarantee that Marlene Dietrich looks beautiful.

How did it feel to make a full-length film in black and white?

The summer and winter shots alternate in the film, and that is usually a problem. In case there is enough support from the story, black and white allows to connect the pieces together, so that they would all fit: by turning a brightly sunlit roof even brighter, an impression of snow is achieved. Rainer was asked in an interview, how can it be that everything is covered in frost and icicles are everywhere, and then someone walks into a river. Wasn’t it cold? I had been aching to use an infrared camera for a long time and this was my chance. It found its rightful place. It is too overwhelming when used on its own, but it fit perfectly in that context. It made it possible to walk into the river.

How do you maintain the balance between the ideal and the reality on the set? You don’t strike me as a particularly diplomatic person, but you work very effectively as part of the team.

How much of a romantic, or a pragmatic is there in me? I might say I have a method worked out. I let everyone marinate until the very last moment, and oddly we can get everything done when the time is ripe. I suck at relaying information in a situation when I don’t have a full picture of everything just yet. I’m always tempted to rely on chance and keep everything open until the last minute. I hope my friends forgive me, but that is my method.

So far, I have luckily worked with a team who I don’t have to prove myself to. The director trusts me. A lot of it is thanks to our keeper and guardian, producer Katrin Kissa, who assembles our crew. Big part of filmmaking is based on an understanding and recognition of people you can and want to work with, not so much on specific skill sets or level of professionalism of any given individual.

How would you rate November as a whole?

I cannot rate it, I’m too close to see it. It’s one of the first instances when I was also engaged in the matters of directing during preparation. The visual and the story were inseparable in our discussions. In a way, a film starts with the words and phrases you use to describe it. Those phrases are ideally coined by the director and the cinematographer together. We went over this movie like two viewers imagining the film in their mind. In case the visual seems to dominate over content, it’s a warning sign – it means I have interfered and overextended.

Film has means of expression, one of them being the visual. Isn’t it commendable if a film can tell a story on the back of the visual alone?

The director of author films has to be fluent in visuals, that’s the point. No one can tell him then, what to emphasise or show, or what has to be in focus. The director’s burden is immense, he has to be responsible for everything. I’m not an artist, I’m carrying out other people’s ideas. I don’t have that kind of responsibility, I’m like a correspondent. I’d like to be invisible as a cameraman. I consider it to be a failure when someone points out good camerawork as first thing. I can fancy my own shots at home as much as I want to.

What’s next in line? Do you have to turn down a good offer sometimes, because you’re fully booked already?

Usually the offers all clash and I have to choose. Currently, we are working on Kaur Kokk’s debut feature called The Riddle of Jaan Niemand. Thanks to a relatively successful Russian co-production Intimate Parts, I have good relations with them, and will hopefully have more mutual projects in the future.

Do you want to make the new film because of the project, or the Russian connection?

We seemed to have a good rapport with the director, Natasha Merkulova, despite the fact that she doesn’t speak English and my Russian is pretty poor. The cooperation was fantastic, because we could only use very simple language, but the sensory universe was overlapping. It’s a perfect way to discuss the frame with the cinematographer.

There is no way to explain the ashtray and the beer mug on the table and their relation to each other, it just has to click. There is no danger to get lost in the distractive explanatory bullshit, because we lack the vocabulary to describe the relationship between the objects in the frame. It brings a certain clarity to the dialogue. It is the director’s desire to approach everything from the angle of the content and it is up to me to tell her what is possible and what not. Due to the language barrier, we can only talk in very concrete terms, without creating any additional expectations about the possibilities of a shot. The relation in the frame is defined by the frames that precede and follow it.

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Cover: A screenshot from “The Temptation of St. Tony”. This article was first published in English by the Estonian Film Magazine, the magazine given out since 2013, twice a year, by Estonian Film Institute. Every issue brings to the readers news about Estonian film productions, reviews of new titles and interviews with film professionals.

Estonia submits “November” for the foreign language Oscar consideration

Estonia has selected the drama and fantasy movie, “November”, as the country’s submission for the foreign language Academy Award.

Shot in black and white, “November” is based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel “Rehepapp” and was directed and written by Rainer Sarnet. Co-produced by Estonia, the Netherlands and Poland, the film premiered in January 2017 to somewhat lacklustre and mixed reactions in the domestic market, but judging by the first signs, is stirring more interest internationally.

The movie had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it won the Best Cinematography award in the International Narrative Feature Film category. The film festival’s jury said that “November” was “particularly audacious and showed supreme command of its visual language”.

Just ahead of the film’s international premiere, Oscilloscope, an independent US film company, acquired North American rights to “November” – it will be released in cinemas later this year. “November is one of the most unique and stunning films to come along in some time. It is equal measures beautiful love story and balls-to-wall bonkers-ass folk tale. It keeps you rapt, guessing and intrigued from its first frame to its last,” Dan Berger, the president of Oscilloscope, said.

Unanimous decision

Based loosely on the historical background of Estonia and the ancient beliefs of its people, the film mixes the Estonian pagan and European Christian mythologies. As the filmmakers say, “both mythologies look for a miracle; for an ancient force that gives one a soul. This film is about souls – longing for a soul, selling your soul and living without a soul.”

The film was chosen as the country’s Oscar submission unanimously by a committee, made up of movie experts Ivo Felt, Martti Helde, Tõnu Karjatse, Tiina Mälberg, Matis Rei, Siim Rohtla ja Edith Sepp. The committee praised the movie’s cinematography, cast and also its soundtrack.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film in January 2018. The winners will be announced at the Academy Awards due to be held on 4 March at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

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Cover: A screenshot from “November”.

Estonian movie “The Fencer” screened in cinemas across the US

The Estonian-Finnish film, “The Fencer”, premieres in New York on 21 July and runs until 1 September.

Distributed by the California Film Institute, “The Fencer” will be screened at 16 cinemas across the United States. The opening night is on 21 July in New York City, where the film will be shown at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.

Produced by the Estonian company, Allfilm, and directed by Finnish director Klaus Härö, “The Fencer” takes the viewers to the time of the Cold War, the time of Stalin, in the Soviet-occupied Estonia. The story takes place in 1952, when a young fencing champion called Endel arrives in a small town Haapsalu to work as a physical trainer – the film is actually partly based on true life events of an Estonian sportsman and coach Endel Nelis (1925-1993).

For an introvert man it is hard to get contact with the children who have been through a lot. In spite of the opposition of the principal of the school, Endel manages to get a permit to teach fencing to the children. Slowly it becomes a therapy for the children as well as the teacher himself – a way to deal with everyday grim. But the principal of the school is holding a grudge and starts to investigate on why the former champion of the Soviet Union really came to a small town.

Internationally, “The Fencer” has been one of the most outstanding Estonian films in recent years. In 2015, the movie was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe award, along four other films. It was also shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. Prior to the film’s US release, numerous global media outlets reviewed the movie, including the New York Times and Huffington Post.

The full screening schedule is available on the California Film Institute website.

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Cover: A screenshot from “The Fencer” (courtesy of the California Film Institute.)

Walmart to start selling Estonian war movie

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is to start selling the Estonian war film, “1944”, on DVD.

The movie’s US distributor, Film Movement, announced “1944” will hit the Walmart stores on 1 August. “Walmart will sell it exclusively for 60 days and then it will go to other accounts as well,” Michael Rosenberg, the president of Film Movement, told Estonian World.

The Elmo Nüganen-directed film, that premiered in Estonia in 2015, depicts the events of the war in 1944 as Estonia faced advances from both the Red Army and the German Wehrmacht.

The true story draws inspiration from the period during the Battle of Tannenberg Line, when volunteer infantry battalions within the Waffen-SS fight off the Red Army’s thrust at Germany. Half of the SS infantry consists of local Estonian conscripts motivated to resist the looming Soviet re-occupation of their small country. They stay motivated until they meet their brothers in the Soviet Army – Estonian men, deported by Stalin in 1939, now brought out of the Siberian labour camps and returning home in enemy uniforms.

The story, scripted by a former military officer Leo Kunnas, is shown through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who – faced with these two opposing armies – found they had to pick sides and fight against their fellow countrymen. Difficult choices had to be made, not only by the soldiers, but also by their loved ones.

International interest

“1944” was selected by Estonia as the country’s submission for the foreign language Academy Award in 2015, hence catching the attention of some international film critics and reviewed by the Hollywood Reporter and Variety magazine – albeit neither was overly enthusiastic.

The Hollywood Reporter said the film’s huge domestic success is unlikely to translate into heavy demand overseas, largely because pretty much every other nation on Earth has its own World War II horror stories. “Nüganen’s film is intelligent and generally gripping, but not original enough in form or content to join the extensive canon of essential wartime dramas,” the magazine said, adding that beyond its local region, “1944” seems more likely to interest festivals and historians than mainstream movie fans.

Nevertheless, “1944” has so far been sold to almost 20 countries, including Germany, France, Japan and China. In 2016, it was released with English subtitles in the United Kingdom and is available through the Amazon UK website, amazon.co.uk.

The “1944” DVD for the US market features the original Estonian language version with English subtitles, as well as an English dubbed track.

The US-based Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue.

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Cover: Screenshot from “1944” (courtesy of Eyewell.)

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