The defining events for Estonia’s film industry in 2015 were: the decision to introduce a cash rebate scheme for incoming productions which will take effect in 2016, alongside two regional film funds, and a strong box office with domestic films walking proud.
Tangerines by Zaza Urushadze made it onto the list of the five finalists for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and brought critical acclaim globally. There are three films with Estonian participation competing in the Oscars 2016 race. It is expected that 2015 will show solid overall admissions and up to 10% market share of domestic films.
A total of seven feature films started shooting in 2015: Spy and Poet / Luuraja ja luuletaja by Toomas Hussar (Allfilm), Mother / Ema by Kadri Kõusaar (Meteoriit Film), Class Reunion / Klassikokkutulek by Rene Vilbre (Taska Film and Matila Röhr Productions/Finland), Happiness Arrives in Sleep / Õnn Tuleb Magades by Mart Kivastik (Kopli Kinokompanii), Polar Boy/ Polaarpoiss by Anu Aun (Luxfilm), Pretenders / Teesklejad by Vallo Toomla (Amrion, Studija Uljana Kim / LIT, Locomotive Productions / LAT) and Days that Confused / Päevad, Mis Ajasid Segadusse by Triin Ruumet (Kinosaurus Film).
In 2015, Estonian Film Institute announced special grants for film projects on the occasion of the Republic of Estonia’s 100th anniversary in 2018. A total of six titles have been chosen from the 165 projects proposed in 2012 and narrowed down during development in subsequent years. Five of these six projects are debut features. The projects will be directed by: Tanel Toom, Moonika Siimets, Kaur Kokk, Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo, Janno Põldma & Heiki Ernits and Raimo Jõerand.
The distribution landscape has remained by and large unchanged since 2014, with a couple of boutique distributors focusing on critically acclaimed art house fare, among them Must Käsi 2 and Estinfilm.
Mainstream distributors include Estonian Theatrical Distribution, representing 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios, ACME Film and smaller players such as BestFilm.
Distributors make efforts to release domestic features simultaneously through different channels, although international blockbusters follow the global pattern and dominate the local box office.
Big telecom corporations such as Elion and Starman have launched their own VOD platforms, but these failed to fundamentally alter the distribution landscape in terms of turnover. However, Netflix is expected to enter the Estonian market in 2016, which could well become a game changer.
EXHIBITION AND BOX OFFICE
The Baltic States’ Forum Cinemas parent company Nordic Cinema Group was bought by the UK-based private group Bridgepoint. The Forum Cinemas chain operates 70 screens in nine cities in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. According to Forum Cinemas’ management in Estonia, the deal will have little effect on the group’s operations in the country. No new multiplexes opened in Estonia in 2015.
Elmo Nüganen’s historical epic 1944 (Taska) set a new opening attendance record for an Estonian film with 19,030 admissions. The film opened in February 2015 and eventually topped the domestic film admissions chart with 115,000 admissions. 1944 was also selected as the Estonian submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 1944 was subsequently taken into Finnish distribution by Atlantic Film OY but failed to repeat the success from Estonia. The international rights were picked up by Sweden-based Eyewell.
Klaus Häro‘s The Fencer, an Estonian/Finnish/German coproduction (Allfilm, Making Movies, Kick Film) is Finland’s submission in the Best Foreign Language film category. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
Riho Unt‘s short animated film The Master was submitted for the Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film, while Souptown Secret Society (Nafta) by Margus Paju beat the all-time opening weekend record for Estonian children films with over 17,000 admissions in the first weekend. The film was released in May 2015.
It is expected that 2015 will show solid overall admissions and up to 10% market share of domestic films at the Estonian box office.
In 2014, Estonia registered a record of 2.6 m admissions, representing nearly 2 admissions per capita.
GRANTS AND NEW LEGISLATION
Annual state support for film is expected to reach a total of 7.4 m EUR in 2015, up from 6.9 m EUR in 2014.
Estonia will launch a cash rebate fund for incoming productions in 2016. The government has earmarked 0.5 m EUR for a pilot year, which is expected to increase to 2 m EUR by 2017 in case the set targets are met. The details of the system are still being worked out. The fund will be managed by the Estonian Film Institute. Funding will be semi-automatic and up to 30% of local spend.
The duties of a national film commission will be transferred from the Estonian Digital Centre to the Estonian Film Institute that will now manage the brand FilmEstonia.eu together with the new cash rebate scheme.
Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city, formally approved the launch of a regional cash rebate fund and set the fund’s initial annual budget at up to 150,000 EUR. The fund will finance both production and postproduction in Tartu, and is available for feature films, short films, documentaries, animated films and quality TV series with a minimum of four episodes. The rebate is capped at 20% of local spend. (link)
Two feature films received production funding in 2015. Toomas Hussar’s Spy and Poet / Luuraja ja luuletaja (Allfilm) received 389,000 EUR and Triin Ruumet’s Days That Confused / Päevad, Mis Ajasid Segadusse received 260,400 EUR.
In 2015, Estonian Film Institute provided minority coproduction grants totalling 190,000 EUR for four projects: Aku Louhimies’s Ikitie / Eternal Road (Finland’s Matila Röhr Productions, Taska Film), Laila Pakalnina’s The Dawn (Latvia’s Hargla Company, Estonia’s Digital Sputnik), Vitali Manski’s The Family (Latvia’s Ego Media, Estonia’s Baltic Films Productions and Kaspar Goba’s Hear. No Hear (Latvia’s Elm Media, Estonia’s Exitfilm).
Eurimages supported two projects with Estonian participation, Rainer Sarnet’s Jesus’ Blood and Red Currants / Rehepapp (Estonia’s Homeless Bob Productions, Poland’s Opus Film, and Dutch PRPL) with 210,000 EUR and Vallo Toomla’s Pretenders / Teesklejad (Estonia’s Amrion, Lithuania’s Studija Uljana Kim, Latvia’s Locomotive Productions) with 120,000 EUR.
In 2015, Estonian Digital Centre together with Europe’s first game developers accelerator Gamefounders and International Game Developers Association Estonia launched the Baltics’ first start-up incubator for digital creative media companies, Digix. The Incubator will hatch up to 24 international digital media start-ups in four batches of six months duration each.
Northern Europe’ only English language film school, the Tallinn University Baltic Film and Media School turned 10. The school currently has an enrolment of over 400 students from more than 30 countries.
The market leader Estonian Public Broadcasting airs three TV channels: two in Estonian and one in Russian. Two commercial channels Kanal2 and TV3 focus mainly on commercial fare from abroad or formats adopted to Estonian markets. The main Russian language TV channel is PBK, a pan-Baltic channel with some content adopted locally. The City of Tallinn finances Tallinna TV with a tiny audience segment and general reputation for being politically slanted.
The Estonian Film Institute launched a new financing initiative for low-budget feature films aiming to bring on board private TV channels. The new scheme is jointly financed by the Estonian Film Institute, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Kanal2 and two of the largest private channels in the country: Kanal2 and TV3.
Three grants of 120,000 EUR each were allotted in 2015, for Kadri Kõusaar’s Mother / Ema (produced by Meteoriit Film), Rene Vilbre’s Class Reunion / Klassikokkutulek (Taska Filmm, Matila Röhr Productions) and Mart Kivastik’s Happiness Arrives in Sleep / Õnn Tuleb Magades (Kopli Kinokompanii).
Report by Martin Adamsoo
Sources: Estonian Film Institute, Baltic Films Fact Sheet, Estonian Ministry of Culture, Estonian Digital Centre, Tartu Film Fund