Oscars: On the Water - The Estonian Entry for The Best International Feature Film at the 2022 Academy Awards

    On the Water by Peeter Simm On the Water by Peeter Simm

    A select committee headed by Estonian Film Institute (EFI) decided by a narrow edge to represent Estonia in the race for Best International Feature Film (also known as Best Foreign Language Film) Oscars in 2022 a drama feature On the Water, directed by Peeter Simm and adapted for screen from his best-selling novel by Olavi Ruitlane.

    „The selection process can be characterised by the division of the committee votes between several films and the final decision was reached by a narrow margin,” Edith Sepp, head of EFI, said. The independent committee led by Sepp picked their champion out of seven contestants. „The choice of the committee shows that ’our own Estonian stories’ are truly important today.”

    Simm has managed to convey the emotional coming-of-age story well, and he also shows humanity and warmth for his characters, in spite of tough surroundings, the committee concluded. As a bonus value, the committee emphasised as an achievement the depiction of the particular era truthfully.

    „The characters are real and feel natural, not to mention the enjoyable and engaging portrayal by the actors,” Sepp said.

    „And the best Võru language Oscar goes to us,” Simm, who has developed an air of avuncular style of humour, jokingly said.

    „What a blessing when a good story meets a well-clicking creative team,” producer Marju Lepp said. „We hope that our tough but hopeful film made with love will move the members of the American film academy.”

    The story takes place in the beginning of the 1980’s in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic in Võrumaa county by the beautiful lake Tamula. The main character Andres (Rasmus Ermel) is left to be raised up by his occasionally strict grandparents after his father has become missing in the Soviet Russia and his mother has fled to Sweden. As a young teenager, Andres loves to go fishing and he does so together with his friend Kolla (Aarne Soro), a bit nutty fellow, whom Andres considers to be ’the smartest man who is officially diagnosed with lunacy’.

    „Should you return to that nuthouse then I’m left with no one in this nuthouse,” Andres sadly says, describing the environment he has to grow in. „As soon as you get off the water, life will get you.”

    On his coming-of-age journey, Andres has to face the usual challenges many teenagers encounter from first love to breaking one’s heart, from finding himself to the hardships in school, but also the loss of the loved ones and the medical problems of the scolding grandpa.

    „Simm has managed to create a life-like and fresh glimpse from the past out of the original text by Ruitlane, without delving too deep into the nostalgia of the Soviet era or taking a biased approach towards those whom life hasn’t treated kindly,” the committee said.

    The film produced by Filmivabrik is the twelfth feature film for Simm and it’s being considered one of the highlights of his career.

    „... it’s extremely impressive that despite the wave of all the young directors, Simm hasn’t put his camera away, and, instead, has responded with one of the best films of his glorious career. It’s yet another powerful sign of the quality, richness, ability to touch deeply, and trustworthiness of Estonian cinema,” film critic Andrei Liimets wrote in his review in the weekly Sirp.

    „Peeter Simm’s film deserves more attention, and it would be especially interesting to see what the feedback from the international market will be,” Sepp said.

    In addition to Sepp, the committee included Kaspar Viilup, film journalist from Estonian Public Broadcaster, Elo Soode, art director residing mostly in the United Kingdom, Ivar Taim, cinematographer, Siim Rohtla, former distributor and adviser on the audiovisual field to the Ministry of Culture, Tiina Lokk, film critic and head of Black Nights Film Festival (BNFF), and  director Moonika Siimets.

    On the Water premiered in the main competition program at BNFF in November of 2020.

    The film is written by Olavi Ruitlane, directed by Peeter Simm, produced by Filmivabrik, producer Marju Lepp. Cinematography by Manfred Vainokivi, art direction by Eugen Tamberg, score by Mihkel Zilmer, and edited by Tambet Tasuja. Cast: Rasmus Ermel, Aurora Aleksandra Künnapas, Kalju Orro, Maria Klenskaja, Marko Matvere, Hilje Murel, etc.