Country focus: Astonishing Estonia

By Katarzyna Nowakowska

    Warsaw (CentEast Daily News) - The small Baltic republic of Estonia - with a population of just under 1.5 million, and an annual production of just a few full-length feature films - has emerged with an offbeat cinematography, with selections both for Cannes and Venice.

    This year more than 10 Estonian pictures - features and animated films - have screened in international showcases. Veiko Õunpuu's feature debut, Autumn Ball, was the first Estonian film ever on show at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won the main prize in the Orizzonti section. The Warsaw International Film Festival is screening both Õunpuu's film and Kadri Kõusaar's first feature, Magnus, as well as Ilmar Raag's award-winning The Class.

    For years Estonia has been famous for its animated films, which have toured the international festival circuit (KROK, Annecy, Tampere). Said legendary Estonian animator is Priit Parn, "The position of Estonian film in society has, throughout the ages, resembled the function of a fool at the king's court. Nobody takes him seriously; he is ridiculed, even hated. At the same time, however, everyone is aware that he reflects life in a distorted way."

    In addition to its success at international film festivals, Estonian cinema has also been exploding on the home market. 186 Kilometres and The Class have both made their way into the 2007 Top 10, and Autumn Ball is expected to join them before the end of the year. Local admissions have already exceeded the 2002 record of 167,000 and are likely to pass 200,000 even before the Warsaw festival is over.