FNE Speaks with Edith Sepp - Head of Estonian Film Institute


    TALLINN: Edith Sepp, the Head of the Estonian Film Institute (EFI), spoke with FNE about the current situation of the Estonian film industry, which has changed dramatically over the last few months.

    Edith SeppFNE: What is the current situation about the funding for the film industry in Estonia?

    Edith Sepp: After the Estonian Republic100 film Programme, when the Government invested an additional 3 m EUR into film production each year (9.2 m EUR altogether), in 2020 the Government decided to keep the extra 3 m EUR funding for film, but with the change of Government in the spring of 2021, it became apparent that the support of 3 m EUR was a one-off uplift. The new Government decided that the state needed to introduce cuts in the light of the pandemic.

    Since this additional support for Estonian film turned out to be formulated as a one-year uplift, the 3 m EUR additional funding for film production was not to be continued in 2022. This represented a cut of almost a third (32.6%) in the budget for the Estonian Film Institute (EFI) and 42% from production only.

    However, Estonian filmmakers asked the Government not to cut this additional support, but instead to make it permanent, and on 30 September 2021 the Government decided that the additional permanent support for film production will be 2 m EUR per year, instead of 3 m EUR. This means that in 2022 the Estonian Film Institute’s total budget will be 1 m EUR lower than in 2021.

    EFI also made a proposal to the Government to start negotiations on using Article 13 in the Audio-visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) in order to broaden support for local filmmakers, as is the case in some other EU Member States. Before this proposal could be negotiated, the Government had accepted the Ministry of Finance’s recommendation not to examine the possibilities AVMSD offers for film, but today the Government is listening to the film sector’s arguments.

    FNE: What is new about the Tallinn Film Wonderland?

    Edith Sepp: In parallel to our fight for fair funding for film production, the film sector got support from the Estonian Parliament to build a new sound stage in Estonia and the film sector’s infrastructure was put on the list of nationally important objects, meaning the state will be partnering with the film sector. The cost of the studio is approximately 17 m EUR and not all the money will come from central government. For example, Tallinn City Council is one of the biggest partners.

    This will be the biggest sound-stage complex in the Baltic region, designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The key rationale for the state to invest in infrastructure is based on our high-tech, “digital first” mentality: we need a sound-stage complex that incorporates all the available technological advances in the audio-visual industry.

    This sound stage will now definitely be built in Estonia and this is a massive break-through for our local production industry, which will deliver significant benefits to the local economy. For example, according to a study published by Olsberg SPI in 2020, sixty seven percent of below-the-line production costs are spent in business sectors outside the film and TV production industry.

    FNE: How do you describe the situation of the domestic cinema these days? What are your challenges right now? 

    Edith Sepp: The domestic cinema attendance is low and the numbers are increasing but rather slowly. The challenge is to get people back to the cinemas, but realistically it would take a few years.

    In the long run, the cinemas are here to stay and the state has given very generous support to local cinemas during the pandemic: alltogether more than 3 m EUR. The main reason for the support was the fact that Estonians were always a nation of cinemagoers. We do hope that neither small nor multiplex cinemas will disappear in the coming years.

    FNE: The attendance for domestic films was quite high in 2020.

    Edith Sepp: In 2020, the cinema attendance for local films was very high, almost 27%, and we hope to keep Estonian local admissions numbers around 20% in the coming years. Estonian productions, however, have decided to postpone their planned premieres until 2022, so next year we will have many very strong films in the pipeline for the local but also for the festival audience.

    FNE: Please tell us more about the online platform that you are working on.

    Edith Sepp: The Estonian Film Institute (EFI) together with the Film Archive has started to build an online platform for all Estonian films; this will give access to archive films together with recently released films. EFI can’t guarantee that all the new films will be there at once, but over the coming years we hope to have one platform where people can see Estonian films without limits.

    The platform will be for all kinds of audiences: residents of Estonia, residents and non-residents living abroad, film buffs who try to see our films in the other end of the world, etc. The idea to build a platform came from the need for film literacy in Estonia, so there will be an integrated special touch on the platform for film education.

    The pandemic has allowed us to think, see the wider perspective, look into the changed industry with opportunities, and doing so in a broader but also detailed way. I hope the platform is up and running during the next five years.

    FNE: How important is it for you to coproduce with neighbouring countries?

    Edith Sepp: For small countries like Estonia, coproduction is the only way to produce films, but it is also the way to make them visible to larger audiences. Coproduction is very important and therefore, even if we need to have minor cuts in 2021, and we hope to have our funding restored and even increased by 2023, we will not have any cuts in the coproduction fund.

    Two Estonian minority coproductions were in main competition programmes in 2021 - one in Cannes and the other one in Venice. It is a sign that cross-national productions are worth supporting. Estonian talent shines together with our European counterparts, but Estonians also gain invaluable experience to flourish in the future with purely national films.