FNE Focus on Estonia


    TALLINN: Estonian film experienced a small renaissance over the past decade with Estonian directors winning prizes and kudos at festivals around the world. In 2007 at the height of the boom Estonia produced 11 feature films including Veiko Ounpuu's Autumn Ball and Ilmar Raag's The Class. At home the share of Estonian films at the domestic box office grew nearly fivefold from 47,000 tickets sold in 2004 to 223,000 tickets sold in 2007.

    The corresponding box office grew from 166,000 to 897,000 Euros. With talent, originality and a steady flow of government support Estonian filmmakers attracted worldwide attention to one of Europe's smallest countries.

    But while the talent and originality remain the film industry in Estonia has been hit hard by the global financial crisis over the past two years. Government support for film production, critical in a country with a population of 1.3m, has been reduced by approximately 25% from a peak of 6.5m Euros in 2008 to 5.5m Euros in 2010. The results are already apparent at the local box office where the share for domestic films fell to just 2% in 2009 after a peak of 14.3% in 2007.

    The work of the Estonian Film Foundation founded in 1997 has to be given credit for being one of the chief reasons for the success of Estonian film over the past decade. Despite its small scale the EFF has consistently been one of the best organized film bodies in the region allowing Estonian film to punch above its weight at international festivals. The EFF is responsible for funding of both promotion and film production. It aims to support the production of about five feature films a year as well as docs, animation and shorts.

    Over the past two years the number of feature films produced has remained at about the same but the level of support for each production has been reduced from about 400 000 Euros to 200 000 or 300 000 Euros leaving Estonian filmmakers struggling to fund feature productions.

    But it's not all gloom and doom as in spite of the challenges Estonian films continue to enjoy substantial international success. The documentary Disco and Atomic War directed by Jaak Kilmi Aarama has been invited to over 50 festivals in 2009 and 2010 and is still going strong. Veiko Ounpuu has followed Autumn Ball with The Temptation of St Tony which was in competition in Rotterdam, screened in Sundance and picked up a special mention from the jury at the East of the West competition in Karlovy Vary. The Class director Ilmar Raag is hard at work on a new film One More Croissant which is slated to start shooting in October and is due for release in 2011 or 2012.

    Another eagerly awaited film is Janno Poldma and Heiki Ernits animated feature Lotte and the Moonstone Secret. The team scored international successes with Ladybirds' Christmas and Lotte from Gadgetville produced by Joonisfilm.

    In 2010 a total of two Estonian features are expected to be release domestically with Andres Puustusmaa's action packed criminal drama Red Mercury and Marko Raat's drama Snow Queen already released earlier this year. Mart Kivastik's A Friend of Mine about a the friendship between a couple of elderly bibliophiles is slated for release in 6 January 2011.

    In summer 2009 the biggest ever Estonian coproduction The Poll Diaries directed by Cris Kraus, and has already had it premier at the Toronto IFF 2010. Estonia actor Tambet Tuisk is one of the leading actors in The Poll Diaries and Riina Sildos (Amrion) is Estonia coproducer.

    In 2011 in total of eight Estonian feature films are slated to be released (full list below*)

    As Estonia gets ready to join the Euro at the beginning of 2011 the Estonian film industry is hoping that international coproductions will be one of the ways to boost film production in the future. Most Estonian features are already coproductions with Finland, Russia, Sweden and Norway. The Euro should give producers an added guarantee of stability and simplify financial transactions between EU partners.

    * Estonian features scheduled for release in 2011
    A Friend of Mine (Mart Kivastik)
    The Poll Diaries (Chris Kraus, Germany-Austria-Estonia coprod)
    Letter to Ingel (Sulev Keedus)
    Graveyard Keeper's Daughter (Katrin Laur)
    Farts on Fury (Andres Maimik, Rain Tolk)
    Rat-trap (Andres Puustusmaa)
    Lotte and the Moonstone Secret (Janno Põldma, Heiki Ernits)
    Idiot (Rainer Sarnet)