Estonian film

Estonian Tiina Mälberg wins the best actress award in Spain

At the ImagineIndia International Film Festival in Madrid, Spain, Estonian Tiina Mälberg won the best actress award for her role in the Kadri Kõusaar-directed movie, “Mother”.

Inspired by the radio series Coma – made by the Irish filmmaker, Kevin McCann – Kõusaar’s darkly comic thriller “Mother” centres on a woman, played by Mälberg, whose adult son is in a coma after a shooting. The woman must face the locals of the small town where they live who try to solve the mystery of what happened.

What initially seems a simple crime story grows into a human tragedy that transcends the “small town” and “small people” mentality to look at timeless questions about morality, self-sacrifice, personal happiness and freedom of choice.

Mälberg said in a statement she was “happy that the viewers see the same depth” as she did when playing the mother’s role in the movie. Mälberg also admitted that as she was in her daily work based at a relatively small Rakvere Theatre, it had become a bit of a challenge to find free time to travel around the world and attend film festivals – the film has already screened at over 40 festivals, including in New York, Calgary, Lübeck, Kolkata, St Petersburg and other cities.

“Mother” was released domestically in January 2016 and had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Organised for the 16th time, the curiously named ImagineIndia International Film Festival is mainly devoted to promote friendship and cooperation between Indian subcontinent, rest of Asia and Spain – and along with it the European Union. The Estonian film industry was this time represented by “Mother”, which is Kõusaar’s third feature film. Last year, it won the best feature film award at the Kitzbühel film festival in Austria.


Cover: Tiina Mälberg in “Mother”.

Estonia’s “November” picks up the Best Cinematography award at Tribeca

The Estonian film, “November”, has won the Best Cinematography award in the International Narrative Feature Film category at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The award was handed over by the American actors, Alessandro Nivola and Willem Dafoe, on behalf of the jury.

“We were particularly impressed by the high level of the cinematography of the films we’ve just seen, which had very different styles and demands. One film was particularly audacious and showed supreme command of its visual language. The Best Cinematography Award goes to Mart Taniel for ‘November’,” the jury said in a statement.

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.

Bonkers-ass folk tale

Just ahead of the film’s international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on 24 April, 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.

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.”


Cover: Screenshot from “November”. Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Estonian film “November” will be released to cinemas in the US and Canada

US film company Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired North American rights to the Estonian film, “November”, which will be released in cinemas later this year.

Oscilloscope, an independent US film company, acquired the rights just before “November” had its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on 24 April.

“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 Oscilloscope president, said in a statement.

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.

Estonian pagan and European Christian mythologies

Based loosely on the historical background of Estonia and 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 story is set in a pagan Estonian village where werewolves, the plague and spirits roam. The villagers’ main problem is how to survive the cold, dark winter. And, to that aim, nothing is taboo – people steal from each other, from their German manor lords and from the spirits, the devil and the Christ. To guard their souls, they give them away to thieving creatures made of wood and metal called kratts, who help their masters by stealing more. They steal even if their barns are already overflowing.

Stealing is an obsession that makes the villagers more and more like the soulless creatures they command, the kratts. Ultimately, the pragmatic farmers are faced with a question: is the life they’ve won through so much toil worth anything, if it lacks a soul?

Oscilloscope is an independent film company founded by the late Beastie Boys cofounder Adam Yauch and former THINKFilm executive and A24 founder David Fenkel. It also has a recording studio and film production facilities.


Cover: Screenshot from “November”. Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

A new documentary highlights the challenges facing Kihnu island

The Estonian island of Kihnu, famous for its distinctive identity and traditional costumes, faces population decline and a new documentary, Meite Kodo (Our Home), draws attention to these issues.

Kihnu is a well-known island among Estonians, partly for its odd yet very interesting traditions, the inhabitants’ sense of strong community and their own dialect which is called Kihnu kiel, among other traditions. Lying off Estonia’s Baltic coast, this small island is home to a small community of people whose cultural expressions and agricultural traditions have been kept alive over the centuries largely through the island’s female population.

However, a problem that many people are probably not aware of is that Kihnu’s population is declining. There are many reasons for this, one of them being the lack of job opportunities and therefore people moving to the mainland towns.

Real issues

Today there are about 389 people living on the island – 127 people are retired and 76 of them are over 70 years old. There are less than 40 students studying at Kihnu School and just 30 preschool children living on the island. In the future, the younger generation sees Kihnu becoming a holiday destination rather than a sustainable island with institutions like a school, hospital and parish house.

To tackle and highlight these issues facing the island, filmmaker and photographer Meelika Lehola decided to make a documentary. Lehola, who is originally from Kihnu, but studied in the United Kingdom and now lives in mainland Estonia, visits her home island often and still feels much attached to the community.

However, over the years, while taking the usual route home from mainland by ferry, she realised there were less and less people travelling, compared with when she was a kid. “I also felt the island was becoming quieter year by year,” Lehola told Estonian World. “I knew that somehow I would like to draw attention to this matter, but I didn’t know when and how.”

By coincidence, two years ago she met another filmmaker, Daniel Picon, who was also planning to do a movie about Kihnu. “It was literally the moment when you have two people in the right place, at the right moment,” Lehola said. The two creators joined forces and made the film, called Meite Kodo (Our Home), happen.

The two directors investigated the topic of declining population and ongoing popularity of the old traditions. “Many of the previous documentaries about Kihnu portray the island’s culture and traditions with a rather positive outcome. Our idea was to question the issues and see what the reality is behind. The documentary is looking more in depth why these problems occur and what the locals think about their future on the island,” Lehola said.

Home and traditions

The short documentary concentrates on the lives of three people. A 45-year-old woman, Viive, is an enthusiastic social worker taking care of the elders of the island. An 87-year-old Alma is Viive’s closest elders among the other elders and a 13-year-old girl Kaisa is the only student in her class – but she wants to leave for the mainland. The disparity between generations will be tested when they have to face a situation whether to stay or to leave, and why?

Kaisa, who is also the main character, feels the island is important for her, but she would probably live and work on the mainland unless there is a chance for a good work in Kihnu.

Viive, who has lived half of her life in the mainland and moved back to the island, sees Kihnu as her one and only home, although she wouldn’t rule out going back to mainland town if a good work opportunity came about. Alma, who saw most of her family fleeing abroad during the Second World War, feels she made the right decision by staying on the island.

The directors believe the film is a good reminder on how to inspire people appreciate little things in life and cherish their home and culture. “This story is not only about these three women, but also appreciation of our home and community overall – how even if a community is gradually fading away and the opportunities are scarce, its members are still willing to stay until the end,” Lehola said. “Although many of the younger people don’t see their futures in the island, they still appreciate very much their home and traditions.”

The future is far from certain

Talking about Kihnu’s future, Lehola said it was uncertain, but it would be possible to predict some developments. “Kihnu is very much dependent on tourism on these days. In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Kihnu’s cultural space and traditions as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which is also one of the reasons its people have a positive attitude towards foreigners who are interested of seeing the island’s culture. The visitors come from as far as Japan, China and other distant countries.”

In addition to tourism, locals also earn money with fishing, knitting and selling their craft or agricultural products. “So far, the island’s geographical isolation, the strong sense of community spirit and their steadfast attachment to the customs of their ancestors have enabled the Kihnu people to preserve their crafts and customs,” Lehola explained.

However, as the interviews conducted for the documentary prove, the customs are also threatened. “For example, the majority of the younger locals have stopped communicating in the local dialect and many of them, for example, do not know how to make local handicraft or cook traditional Kihnu bread. They say that it’s something they will learn if they feel it’s necessary. Kihnu kiel, which is also taught in school, is a dialect they know how to speak, although they would rather speak Estonian because everyone else speaks it,” Lehola said.

According to Lehola, there are some concerning signs which indicate the island’s inhabitancy might be under pressure in the long run. “Luckily, the Kihnu people have a strong will – and more than anything, they want to sustain their island’s cultural heritage and traditions. In the documentary, we concentrate specifically on women, because they have been considered the ones who have kept the island alive until now. It’s a heart-warming and inspirational story for people who might feel disconnected from their homes or feel generally lost in their lives.”


Cover: Local community dancing in Kihnu. All images by Meelika Lehola.

Estonian culture introduced in three Hungarian cities

A week full of Estonian cultural events is taking place from 14-26 March in three Hungarian cities – Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged.

For the tenth time already, the Estonian Institute brings the latest highlights in the country’s cultural scene to Hungary. For those unaware, the two countries share linguistic connection – Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family and is distantly related to Estonian as well as Finnish. Hence, the historical and cultural contacts between Estonia and Hungary go way back.

This year’s programme starts at the Budapest Centre of Architecture with the exhibition “Where Did Euro Disappear?” by the Union of Estonian Architects. The exhibition presents a selection of construction projects completed in Estonia in 2006-2015 thanks to the grants of the European Union, forming an important and recognisable layer in the Estonian city and country landscapes.

The curators predict that these buildings will probably be compared, decades from now, in the same weight category as Baltic-German manors or the Soviet architecture. “Perhaps this era will then be referred to as Euro architecture,” the curators say.

Film programme the most popular

Over the years, the film programme has proven to be the most popular part of the Estonian week in Hungary. This year, four recent feature films will be screened in Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged: “The Days That Confused”, “Pretenders”, “The Polar Boy” and “The Spy and the Poet”. A selection of new Estonian animated films as well as Ülo Pikkov’s film programme will also be shown.

Literary tradition will be represented by poet Kristiina Ehin and writer Mari Saat. Ehin’s poetry and Saat’s novel, “Lasnamäe lunastaja” (“The Redeemer of Lasnamäe”), reached the Hungarian audience thanks to the translator and Estonian literature admirer, Béla Jávorszky, last year.

An ensemble called Verbarium takes the stage with songs written to the poems of Kersti Merilaas and August Sang in the jazz club Opus, which is a long-term collaboration partner of the Estonian week in Budapest. The band has drawn inspiration from folk and world music, but also rock and jazz.

People can also taste Estonian food during the cultural week. The Budapest bistro, Kazimír, offers meals inspired by traditional Estonian recipes – the menu includes both kama cream as well as herring salad.


Cover: Kristiina Ehin (photo by Ardo Säks.) Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Estonian film “November” selected for Tribeca screening

Estonian movie “November”, based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel “Rehepapp”, has been selected to compete in the International Narrative Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

“November”, directed and written by Estonian film director Rainer Sarnet, was co-produced by Estonia, the Netherlands and Poland, and debuted in the domestic market in January 2017. The film, shot in black and white, will have its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival that was founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff.

A film about souls

Based loosely on the historical background of Estonia and 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 story is set in a pagan Estonian village where werewolves, the plague and spirits roam. The villagers’ main problem is how to survive the cold, dark winter. And, to that aim, nothing is taboo – people steal from each other, from their German manor lords and from the spirits, the devil, and the Christ. To guard their souls, they give them away to thieving creatures made of wood and metal called kratts, who help their masters by stealing more. They steal even if their barns are already overflowing.

Stealing is an obsession that makes the villagers more and more like the soulless creatures they command, the kratts. Ultimately, the pragmatic farmers are faced with a question: is the life they’ve won through so much toil worth anything, if it lacks a soul?

The film is not without a love narrative – the main character is a young farm girl who is hopelessly and forlornly in love with a village boy and is ready to die in the name of love.

Global showcase

“November” will compete with nine other films at Tribeca. According to the organisers, the festival’s international narrative competition is a “true global showcase of the best in world cinema today”. “These 10 international gems will compete for Best Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor and Best Actress.”

In a year of record high submissions – 7,800, out of which over 3,300 were feature-length titles – the festival’s curators chose to reduce the size of the overall programme by 20%, making this the most selective and focused festival slate yet. Just 98 feature-length films, including “November”, were ultimately selected.

“Each in their own way, these 98 films fill me with optimism and inspiration at the unique power of our medium, and the eyes of a talented filmmaker to inspire, challenge, and maybe even change the world,” Cara Cusumano, Tribeca’s director of programming, said in a statement, adding that “in tumultuous times like these we need artists and storytellers the most”.

The 2017 feature-film programme includes films from 28 countries, including 78 world premieres, six international premieres, six North American premieres, two US premieres and six New York premieres. The 16th annual Tribeca Film Festival takes place on 19-30 April.


Cover: The main character in “November” is a young farm girl who is hopelessly and forlornly in love with a village boy and is ready to die in the name of love. Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.

Ülo Pikkov combines animation and documentary

Estonian filmmaker Ülo Pikkov’s newest puppet animation film, “Empty Space”, presents a story forged in the dreams of a father hiding from the Soviet terror. The animation is a reconstruction of a vision on the backdrop of the anxieties of the 1950s in the Soviet Union.

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

“Empty Space”, which recently won the jury award at the EstDocs film festival in Toronto, Canada, talks about memories, dreams and longing. The director takes the viewer on a journey to the beginning of the 1950s. Starting with little Merike playing at home on a Sunday morning, the story of one of the most heinous chapters in Estonian history delicately unfolds. The animation invokes a past memory, an apartment that once existed and a small girl dwelling and playing there.

Where did you get the impulse to make “Empty Space”?

That’s a long story. Per chance, I met a woman who is over 70 years old. It turned out that her father was an officer in the Estonian Army during the “first republic” (the pre-Soviet occupation Estonia – editor). When the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, the Estonian Army personnel was automatically absorbed into the Soviet Army. Her father was sent to the front and became a prisoner of the Germans, then freed a while later because there was no real crime to prosecute him for.

When the Russians occupied Estonian the second time, the interrogations began. Her father was afraid that he would be sent to prison or deported to Siberia. So, he built a hideout in the cellar where he spent ten years. And as not to go stir crazy or actually crazy, he crafted a miniature copy of his former home – over two hundred pieces in all.


His daughter was three months old when he went into hiding and 11 when he re-emerged. The daughter later said that her father probably wouldn’t have gone hiding if he’d known he would be down there for that long. It’s possible he only wanted to hide for a few months, but they came to search for him with dogs and so he stayed…

So, is the film based on the daughter’s story?

Yes, the film is based on the daughter, whom I interviewed many times. Back then, she didn’t know her father was alive, of course, because she might have accidentally told someone.

When her father came out of hiding because he was sent word that the Forest Brothers were given amnesty after Stalin’s death, he gave the miniature copy of his home that he had made underground to his daughter as a gift. Of course, the girl was very happy to find her father alive as until then, she’d only known that he was dead and she wasn’t to talk about him. But when she saw the doll furniture, it made her sad because she knew that she was a big girl already and the time for playing with dolls in her life was over.


In some ways, the film is a realisation of the father’s dream – of him building the doll furniture so his daughter could someday play with it. And since the furniture was an exact copy of his own home, I’m sure he could see his daughter moving around it in his imagination. For the film, we made a realistic copy of Merike as a little girl based on pictures of her and placed her in that very same furniture that her father made. We tried to be as authentic as possible – the radio plays shows from that era etc.

Is all of the furniture you used made by her father or did you make some of it yourself?

One of our main principles was not to make anything new or to change anything. We used all of the pieces made by her father and added nothing but the doll made based on old photographs. And if some of the items were a little broken – nails were sticking out etc. – we didn’t fix them.


How long did it take to make the animation?

The technical side didn’t take long, maybe half a year in all. But developing the project and preparations took longer, of course.

Your latest animations (Body Memory, Tik Tak etc.) talk about the themes of time, the historical memory and Estonian history. What draws you to these issues?

It’s sort of just turned out like that. I’m interested in an animation film having elements of documentary in it; I want to combine the two genres. There have been tons of animation films about someone going somewhere and then something interesting happening to him. I’m interested in the symbiosis of animation film combined with the aesthetics of documentary. That’s the wave I’m on right now; it’s what inspires me. And I’ll keep working through that in my next projects.

You’ve studied drawn animation and are quite successful in that field. But now you’ve been making puppet animation films for years. Why draws you to the puppets?

The story is important, and then comes the technique. There was no way I could make “Empty Space” with drawn animation. I guess all creative people are looking for their path, searching for what direction to go. Right now, I like real materials and the stories, memories and experiences that things hold. There’s something mystical in that.

You were a lecturer at the Estonian Academy of Art for a long time until this year. Are you no longer teaching anywhere?

The Estonian Academy of Art exhausted itself for me and now I don’t teach anywhere. But my book, Animasophy (2010), will soon be published in Czech and I’m in negotiations for translations into Chinese and Hungarian. So, in some way, the texts I wrote as a teacher will live on. I’m also about to finish my doctoral thesis on the unique characteristics of Eastern European animation films.


I’m also active at the Creative Lab of the University of Tallinn Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture (MEDIT). The Creative Lab is working on a very interesting challenge of trying to combine modern technical solutions with traditional methods of storytelling.

You also work as a producer?

Yes, I make animation films, but I’ve mainly produced documentaries. Right now, I’m working on a project called “Roots” that is being directed by six women. It’s one of the documentary projects that took part of the 100th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia projects and should premiere in 2017. Of earlier projects, I was the producer of Flowers from the Mount of Olives (2013), which premiered at Locarno.

What are you working on now?

I’m developing a story about letting go. The film takes a slightly different approach where the process may even be more important than the result. There’s an ancient tradition in Japan called hinamatsuri. If you have a bad experience or a trauma of which you want to let go, you make a doll and a boat and send them off to sea. There’s a person with a broken soul who grew up in an orphanage and who is trying to start an independent life. She has no previous experience as a filmmaker. I plan to work with her to make an animation where a boat and a doll are made and they’re actually sent out to sea.

It’s a partially improvised process and could even be called animated therapy during which a very personal story is also told.

Films directed by Ülo Pikkov

2016 An Old Man and an Old Woman. An Erzya Story

2016 Empty Space

2014 Tik Tak

2013 Ada + Otto

2013 The End

2011 Body Memory

2009 Gone with the Wind

2008 Dialogos

2007 Tablemat of the Baltic Sea

2006 Taste of Life

2003-2005 Frank and Wendy

2003 The Year of the Monkey

2001 Superlove

2001 The Headless Horseman

1998 Bermuda

1996 Rumba

1996 Cappuccino

Films produced by Pikkov

2013 Flowers from the Mount of Olives (documentary)

2011 Breakfast on the Grass (animation)

2011 Fly Mill (animation)

2010 Normal (documentary)

2010 A Letter from Ruhnu (documentary)

In addition to writing and illustrating several children books, Ülo Pikkov is also the author of “ANIMASOPHY. Theoretical Writings on the Animated Film” (The Estonian Academy of Arts. 2010)


Cover: Still from the “Empty Space”. Read more from the new edition of the Estonian Film Magazine (for the best interactive experience, download the iPad version). Previous editions of the Estonian Film Magazine can be found on its website. 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. 

The EstDocs Film Festival – upcycling stories about wolves, fashion and politics

The EstDocs Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, celebrated its twelfth year of delivering a 360-degree perspective on Estonian history, politics, arts and culture. Documentaries explored the creative process and spirit, as well as a deep connection to land and nature.

The master plan

This year, the audiences in Toronto turned out in record numbers for the EstDocs Gala film, “The Master Plan”, by Latvian filmmaker Juris Pakalniņš, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Bloor Street.

“The Master Plan” drew a savvy crowd curious about Russia’s strategic use of info war methods and their propaganda engine that operates as NGOs in several European locations. Utilising broadcast materials from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine, the documentary told how the Kremlin-owned media generates nostalgia and fear of the enemy in the Russian communities abroad.


This year’s gala was held just days before America’s controversial presidential election. As with last year’s gala, a lively post-screening discussion about international politics ensued. Chris Alexander, the former Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and other Canadian political figures speculated on Russian aggressive policies in a panel moderated by filmmaker Riho Västrik, an associate professor at the Baltic Film, Media Arts and Communication School in Tallinn.

Animation wins the jury award

The EstDocs jury this year was comprised of Heather Haynes, a senior programmer for Hot Docs; animator Priit Tender, who won the 2015 Jury Award for his documentary, “The Journey to the Maggot Feeder”; and filmmaker Mark Terry, known for his humanitarian and social issue documentaries.

The Jury Award was given to an 11-minute doll animation, “Empty Space” by Ülo Pikkov, which masterfully reconstructed the anxieties of the 1950’s Soviet-era through a father’s longing for home.


The animation tells a story of Leonhard Lina, a former officer of the Estonian Defence Forces, who went into hiding for ten years and in that time crafted together 217 tiny pieces of furniture and household items as a miniature replica of the family apartment – meant as a gift to his daughter. The sets of the film used Lina’s original doll furniture and the girl puppet was fashioned from the childhood photos of his daughter, Merike. She was ten years old when her father presented her with this gift and she makes an appearance in the film.

“This film pushed the style of documentary filmmaking by presenting a touching narrative with a unique, artistic and creative form – with strong visuals intertwined with story and a stunning soundtrack,” Heather Haynes said.

The film about upcycling wins over the audience

The EstDocs Audience Award and the jury’s honourable mention went to Jaak Kilmi and Lennart Laberenz’s documentary, “Out of Fashion”, which was preceded by a pop-up fashion show of Estonian designer Reet Aus’ brand of upcycled clothing. The show was choreographed to the live vocals and keyboard of guest artist, Jarek Kasar, from Estonia.


Designer Reet Aus experiments with upcycling as the head designer in the city theatre in Tallinn. Five years ago, she started to make an educational film with filmmakers Kilmi and Laberenz about the influence of the dark side of the fashion and textile industry. But interesting things started to evolve. “When we went to Bangladesh, I started to work with a Bangladeshi company and we went all over the world to see how the industry works. It changed my way of working and my career and everything,” Aus said.

Reet Aus

Aus’ brand is a reaction to fast fashion’s wasteful practices. “Upcycling is basically a design method where you take the material or fabric as it is and you give value through the design. You just make a new product out of it. It’s like the value of the waste goes up,” Aus explained. Her clothing line is made in Bangladesh from the 18 percent of the fabric that would otherwise end up in the landfills.

A number of highlights

Other highlights of the festival were Maria Avdjushko’s “Unt’s Hour”, which immerses audiences into the 1960ies’ generation of the literary salon at Vilde Street in Tallinn with the public figure Mati Unt – a writer and director who used cinema to reinvent old forms.


Liina Paakspuu’s “The Heart of a Wolf” features two Nordic heavy metal bands, “Metsatöll” and “Finntroll”, whose popularity is growing across Europe through their mix of pagan symbols and traditional music sung in their native languages.


“The Land of Soul”, directed by Kullar Viimne and Erik Norkroos, takes viewers to the first Estonian church in America, a six-hour drive from Chicago, which needed a massive community effort in its restoration. The documentary features Tõnis Mägi, one of the most influential musicians of Estonian rock scene, who performs in the churchyard.

Estonian church II

“Canvas City”, directed by Aleksandr Heifets, explores the making of the brightly coloured graffiti illuminating electric cabinets, bridges and the street walls of the Estonian town, Tartu, and the motivations of street artists MinaJaLydia and Edward von Lõngus.


“Life on the Mother River”, by director Remek Meel, features the wild life of the water world at the Alam-Pedja nature reserve in Estonia, documented by a father and young son duo.


The closing night film, “Vigala Sass – Last Recordings”, by Mariann Kõrver and Jaan Tootsen, features the shaman and healer, Aleksander Heintalu, who widely published his knowledge of medicinal herbs and shares his secrets and mysteries of life in his last days.

A short documentary competition

The main festival for the past eight years has been preceded by the EstDocs Short Documentary Film Competition that accepts domestic and international films with Estonian themes, running less than seven minutes. This year’s awards were sponsored through the Toronto Tartu College and the Otto Rannamäe Memorial Fund as cash prizes.


Two Canadian filmmakers, Mike Dell and Kim Bagayava, who won third prizes in 2012 and 2013, announced that their “Friends of Estonia Award” will be awarded to a non-Estonian filmmaker in the next year’s competition. Dell and Bagayava thanked the EstDocs for the great boost the filmmakers’ careers received, after Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweeted the link to their short, “Kati and Me” film, in 2012, reaching tens of thousands of followers.

This year’s short film jury, Karin Hazé, Eeva Mägi and Matt Toom, decided to give the first prize to “Saaremaale!” – a film by Jaak Kilmi and Aleksandr Heifets. It was chosen by the jury for its pathos and humour in a recognisable Estonian setting – the ferry dock to Saaremaa. The film also received the Otto Rannamäe Memorial Award as the audience’s favourite.

Second prize went to Riho Västrik’s “Go Tallinn!” and third prize went to Jordanian filmmaker Sari Sari’s “In the City”. Three honourable mentions were given to Aleksandr Heifets’s “Tartu. Kalevi/Pargi”, Jüri Soomägi’s “Leib” and Sylvi Oja’s “Eestlane Olen?”

Short films are a respectable form for filmmakers and EstDocs invites professional, amateur and student filmmakers to submit their documentary films with Estonian themes for its ninth annual Short Film Competition in 2017. All films need to be in English or subtitled in English. “This could be your opportunity to build or advance a career in filmmaking,” the organisers said.


Cover: A collage of the films that were screened at the EstDocs 2016. All photos courtesy of EstDocs and Estonian World.

The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival ties art and industry together as it celebrates its 20th year

In the cold and dark Estonian November evenings, the Black Nights Film Festival (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 11-27 November, the cinemas in Tallinn and Tartu 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.

Last year, the festival had over 80,000 admissions, not to mention the 768 industry guests and journalists, to see approximately 650 films.

Official acknowledgement

Although the Black Nights Film Festival will happily celebrate turning 20 this year, by no means does that mean it can just rest on its laurels. Two years ago, 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. So far, only 15 festivals around the world have received this badge of honour. The Black Nights Film Festival is in a fine company, sharing the status with Cannes, Venice and Berlin festivals, among others.

Despite the fact that 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.

With recognition comes responsibility

The audience has a generous amount of productions to choose from. The crown jewel of the Black Nights Film Festival is the international “Main Competition” programme. Twelve films from established directors worldwide, selected by an international jury, compete for the Grand Prix. For the first time in the festival’s history, all the films in the main competition are world or international premiers, with all the directors of these films present at the event.


It might be easy to dismiss the importance of this fact, but it really symbolises the festival’s reliability and the industry professionals’ trust. The premiere of a film can be a determining factor in its life and success. It is a special moment when the director puts their work into the hands of the audience and watches as it takes on a life of its own.

The Black Nights Film Festival award section includes the First Feature competition for debutant directors, the Estonian Film award, and various ceremonial titles like the audience award or lifetime achievement award.

What can you fill your black nights with?

The festival’s competitions are accompanied by many programmes, all of which are meticulously thought through. For example, the Screen International Critics’ Choice programme provides the local audience a chance to see the notable films that have made quite a splash in the festival circuit. The Forum programme presents issues that urge discussion, however uncomfortable the topics might be.


Similarly, Hot Topics underlines various humanitarian and social problems. The Across the Line programme deals with relevant topics in the globalised world today, wherein young storytellers use deep social analysis and allegories to reflect on the challenges European nations have to face.

Midnight Shivers, on the other hand, is a collection of the freshest and wildest films that simply demand to be viewed in the dark of the night. In addition to all this, fashion films have their own section, as do documentaries, and there are many more subcategories.


The films and programmes have all been chosen to be a part of the festival for a reason. The viewers should keep this in mind, since not all of the productions might be easy or pleasant to watch. The festival is modelled to provide the local audiences a comprehensive selection of world cinema in all its diversity.

Plentiful black nights to make room for sub-festivals

The Black Nights Film Festival programme has made way for a few sub-festivals, all of which now have a distinguished identity of their own. One of them is Just Film, a children’s and youth film festival that is known for speaking to children in their language and discovering the world with them. It touches upon issues that youngsters might not be interested in sharing with their parents or are even ashamed to discuss with their peers and in that way, Just Film oftentimes helps parents and teachers understand and connect with the kids better.

The International Short Film Festival Sleepwalkers emerged as a student film festival that screened many cult films. Now, however, they have expanded and adopted the short film genre and even hold an independent competition. Sleepwalkers collaborates with light and video artists and emphasises largely on the room specifics having established itself as an atmospheric festival.


The name Animated Dreams already gives itself away – yes, it is an animated film festival. In fact, the oldest and biggest animated film festival in Baltics. It showcases the work of Estonian directors as well as foreign ones promoting animation culture through and through. Animated Dreams’ special programs Late Night Comedy, and Late Night Love – which tackles desires and sexuality – can be considered fan favourites.

Introducing the Baltic film industry to the world

The focal point of the film festival naturally lies in the top-quality, diverse, bold and balanced film programme. In addition to that, however, there is a growing interest in meetings held for the film industry professionals. The Black Nights Film Festival works hand in hand with the Baltic Event co-production market, an endeavour with the sole purpose to promote the Baltic film industry.

That collaboration has taken the form of Industry@Tallinn, a week-long parallel event. Industry@Tallinn hosts panels, showcases, one-on-one mentorship sessions, consultations and a talent development camp. It aims to give the Baltic film industry a professional, clear and accessible identity by making local film and entertainment professionals visible and connecting them with the US, Asia and Europe.

Foto: Liis Reiman

The Baltic region is a hidden gem of sorts in regard to film production. There are plentiful options for picturesque nature scenery, beautiful cityscapes, including the unique old town of Tallinn, as well as kitschy reminders from the Soviet days. A group of film industry people are working together in the hopes of establishing a modern studio complex. Estonia woos foreign productions with a tax rebate scheme that can go up to 30% which could appeal to many producers and distributors who might otherwise simply be oblivious to the mere possibility of the area due to insufficient knowledge about the region.

Other previously mentioned A-class film festivals have successfully incorporated the reputation of a great film trade hub into the image of the hosting cities, in addition to boosting the economy through a blooming tourism industry. The Black Nights Film Festival might not be quite at that place yet, but with 20 years of experience and hard work, it is not naive to firmly set the sights on getting there.


Cover: The Black Nights Film Festival celebrates turning 20 this year (the festival catalogues/courtesy of the Black Nights Film Festival.)

The EstDocs film festival returns to Toronto

EstDocs, the film festival featuring top documentary filmmaking talent from Estonia and around the world, offers screenings in the expat-heavy city of Toronto.

For already the twelfth year in a row, Toronto is hosting EstDocs – an audience festival and juried competition featuring films that have a connection to Estonia.

The roster of documentary makers featured in the festival is very diverse – from experienced directors to aspiring ones, both from Estonia and the Estonian expat community around the world.

From the political undertones to animation

Traditionally, the featured films have provided a 360-degree perspective on the Estonian history, politics, arts, culture and social aspects. However, as a sign of turbulent times in the world and a more assertive Russia, this year’s festival will kick off on 4 November with Juris Pakalniņš’ film, “The Master Plan”, where the Latvian director investigates the Kremlin’s sophisticated propaganda engine and the Baltic countries’ political defiance in the face of the new Russian imperialism.

Priit Tender, an Estonian animator, will keep the guests entertained with a talk on the animation traditions of Estonia and screen his films, “The Maggot Feeder”, “The House of Unconsciousness” and “Bird Flu”.

“Empty Space”, an animation by Ülo Pikkov, is based on a true story of a father’s longing for his daughter. The dollhouse, used for the film, will be presented, too.

Jaak Kilmi’s film, “Out of Fashion”, tells a story of Reet Aus, an Estonian fashion designer who has led a “trash to trend” fashion approach by “up-cycling” materials others throw away. Aus will also attend the pop-up fashion show at the festival.

Land of soul

“Unt’s Hour”, a debut feature by the Estonian actress, Maria Avdyushko, takes the film-goers to the 1960s Estonian literary and theatre scene by portraying the legendary writer and stage director, the late Mati Unt.

Liina Paakspuu’s “Heart of a Wolf” follows Nordic folk metal band Metsatöll that famously infuses traditional music with modern rock.

Kullar Viimne and Erik Norkroos’ “Land of Soul” features Tõnis Mägi, one of the most influential and remarkable names in Estonian rock music, whose song, “Koit”, became one of the anthems of the Singing Revolution.

The festival concludes with Mariann Kõrver and Jaan Tootsen’s “Vigala Sass – Last Recordings”, a film exploring the shaman healer, Vigala Sass, and his profound knowledge of medicinal herbs.

The EstDocs Film Festival runs in Toronto from 4-8 November.


Cover: The EstDocs festival poster for 2016. Courtesy of EstDocs.

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