Estonian breakout director: Rene Vilbre

By Martin Aadamsoo

    2008 was the breakout year for the Estonian director Rene Vilbre whose second feature I Was Here screened at this year's Karlovy Vary East of the West section and climbed to the top 10 at the domestic box office.

    Vilbre graduated from the very first class of film students from Tallinn University in 1997 and, true to his passion, began working as a projectonist in local cinemas. He moved on to Estonian Public Television where he is still chief director. Better known locally for his work as the director of short clips for the Eurovision song contest in Estonia in 2002, Vilbre shot his first feature Mat the Cat in 2005, a feelgood children's story that also made it to the top 10 domestically and won the Children's Film Prize at the Luebeck Nordic Film Days.

    Vilbre's short dance film The Other, commissioned by ARTE, was invited to Clermont-Ferrand in 2005, and the director has since tried his hand in other genres such as animation, documentary and music videos.

    Vilbre's international breakout second feature I Was Here is a sharp turn in direction, tackling the issue of drug peddling by teenagers. It is Estonia's official submission to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign-Language Film category. The film is based on an award-winning debut novel by Sass Henno and cost a modest 600,000 EUR to make, with funding from Estonia and Finland.

    The critics' response to the film has been largely different from the audiences'. While the critics see it more as a well constructed craft work, young viewers in particular have been enthusiastic about the head-on approach to the topic, quick pace, and credible depiction of today's youth culture.