A M A G A Z I N E F R O M T H E E S TO N I A N F I L M I N S T I T U T E
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NEWS REVIEWS INTERVIEWS
Evelin Penttilä Producer on the Move
Creates New Worlds
Documenting the War
A Diverse Filmmaker and Film Thinker FEATURED FILMS: THE SLEEPING BEAST • MELCHIOR THE APOTHECARY ERIK STONEHEART • INVISIBLE FIGHT • DESERTED • TREE OF ETERNAL LOVE
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FOREWORD In April 2022, Estonia celebrated the 110th anniversary of our national film industry. On the 28th April 1912, the Estonian filmmaker Johannes Pääsuke captured the flight of a plane and these images were shown to the public two days later. In September, The Estonian Film Institute, the national film agency, celebrates its 25th birthday. However, although we are proud and happy about these important anniversaries, the war in Ukraine is taking all our attention. A key debate now is going to be about the ethics of modern times, and this has consequences for every single one of us working in the film business, and means that we all have individual and collective responsibilities to play our part in opposing the heinous actions of Putin’s regime. All of us need to understand why the Ukrainians are so deeply hurt when they see Russian directors in the official selection at Cannes – including in the Main Competition - and why we should ban for the time being all Russian films from cinemas. Indeed, these are questions which the world of film as a whole needs to reflect upon. Throughout 2022, Estonia holds the presidency of the European Audiovisual Observatory, which acts as the central organisation, collecting and analysing data about the audiovisual industry in Europe. In June, we will organise a hybrid conference with the EAO, The Creators in Europe’s Screen Sectors, on the theme of how the film industry has to keep creators at the centre of our attention. We will include the theme of ethics. There are moral principles we need to agree upon to survive this war, deal with its consequences, and eventually move on. We cannot deny the suffering that Putin’s regime is inflicting, and causing immense problems beyond Ukraine’s borders. There are other wars ongoing and possibly new wars ahead, but this certainly does not lessen the pain of Ukrainians. The internal moral compass of anyone of us must know what is wrong and what is right. Children are dying and civilians are being killed. Women like your mother, your little sister, the girl next door are being raped and tortured. And that, we know, is wrong – these are acts of human depravity and war crimes. This concerns every one of us, and it has to be reflected in the decisions we make in these times, also in our chosen profession and trade of film and the moving image. Making the right decision to publicly oppose this war, taking responsibility to help save fellow human beings from any further pain, is the least we can do in these difficult times. The Estonian film community dedicates this Estonian Film issue to Ukraine and Ukrainian film. We continue our work and this is what we can do today. Our hearts are with the ones who unjustifiably suffer as a consequence of this murderous invasion of a sovereign state. Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava!
Edith Sepp, CEO of Estonian Film Institute
NEWS Erik Stoneheart – A Collab with Ukraine
PRODUCER Evelin Penttilä – Producer on the Move
10 NEWS Invisible Fight in Production 14 COVER STORY Elen Lotman – A Professional Optimist
20 DOCS Ivar Heinmaa – Frontline Cameraman
22 IN FOCUS Matis Mäesalu – Creating New Worlds
28 DOCS Margit Lillak about Becoming Roosi
30 ANIMATION Animation is Flying High 32 EVENT Hear! The PÖFF Wolves Howl 34 REVIEW Deserted 36 REVIEW Tree of Eternal Love
22 Photos by Viktor Koshkin, Virge Viertek, Ivar Heinmaa
Estonian Film is published three times per year by Estonian Film Institute Estonian Film Institute Uus 3, 10111, Tallinn, Estonia Phone: +372 627 6060 I E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org I filmi.ee Editor in Chief: Eda Koppel Contributing Editor: Maria Ulfsak (Eesti Ekspress) Contributors: Johannes Lõhmus, Aurelia Aasa, Filipp Kruusvall Translation: Tristan Priimägi, Maris Karjatse Linguistic Editing: Paul Emmet Design & Layout: Profimeedia Printed by Reflekt Cover: Elen Lotman photo by Riina Varol, MUAH by Erle Taklai ESTONIAN FILM
Erik Stonehe a Collab With Ukraine Erik Stoneheart, the children’s adventure film, directed by Ilmar Raag, is a collaboration between Estonia, Luxembourg, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. The VFX of the film was done in Ukraine in 2021, and also in Luxembourg and Estonia. By Maria Ulfsak Photos by Amrion and Esse Production House
he main production company of the film is Amrion Productions from Estonia, and the executive producer is Riina Sildos. The script for Eric Stoneheart was written by Estonian scriptwriters Livia Ulman and Andris Feldmanis who have gained international attention with the script for the 2021 Cannes hit Compartment No 6. The protagonist of Erik Stoneheart is an 11-year-old boy Erik, who is convinced that he has a stone for a heart. And this is why he doesn’t mind that his parents have no time for him, or that he has no real friends. When his family moves into a vil-
la, inherited from aunt Brunhilda, he discovers another family living there – a young girl Maria and her dad, whom Erik’s parents want to kick out. When the family receives an eviction notice, Maria activates her secret plan to bring back her missing mother to save them. Together they end up on a fantastic journey to an In-Between-World, and Erik learns how hard it is to have a heart of stone. According to Vitaliy Sheremetiev (Esse Production House, Ukraine), the project was first discussed at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, already the 4th year of Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia. “Me and our team, Natasha Libet and
The Ukrainian team, SnowDog FX, together with the director Ilmar Raag (third from the left) and co-producer Vitaliy Sheremetiev (second from the right).
Olga Beskhmelnitsina, were very inspired by the project. The underlying meanings at the heart of the film’s script resonated very strongly with us, since the plot of this children’s movie was built around the loss of the person closest to the child. We see the whole story through the eyes of a young boy. In the course of the story, the trauma is worked on, and all this is created without much dramatization, in a narrative manner accessible to the child. We realized that this film can be very important for our audience in Ukraine. Since the beginning on the war, our society has been faced with the massive problem of the loss of parents among children. By now, this topic has become
Many of the VFX effects of Eric Stoneheart were done by the Ukrainian team of the film.
even more pertinent,” commented Sheremetiev to Estonian Film. He says that they translated the script and gave it to a child psychologist in Ukraine, who is specialized in this kind of trauma. “We received an answer with the highest rating, and with the comment that this film can be very useful for professionals working with children. This was our final argument as to why we wanted to participate in this project, and did our best to make it happen. I am absolutely happy to work with such partners as Riina Sildos and Ilmar Raag, all the participants from Estonia and the other countries, are highly professional and masters in their field. For us, this collaboration is an invaluable experience, and I am very grateful that we met Riina at the same Berlin festival five years ago,” said the Ukrainian producer. The protagonists of the film are played by Herman Avandi, Florin Gussak, Juhan Ulfsak, Laura Peterson-Aar-
dam, Renars Kaupers, and Jules Werner. The directors of photography are Tuomo Hutri (Finland) and Ivar Taim (Estonia), production designer is Kari Kankaanpää (Finland), costume designer is Anu Lensment (Estonia), and the editor is Felix Sorger (Luxembourg). Co-delegate producers of the film are Adrien Chef, Paul Thiltges (Paul Thiltges Distributions, Luxembourg), with co-producers Uljana Kim (Uljana Kim Studios, Lithuania), Aleksi Bardy (Helsinki-filmi Oy, Finland), Roberts Vinovskis (Locomotive Productions, Latvia), and Vitaliy Sheremetiev (Esse Production House, Ukraine). The film is originally in Estonian, but it will be dubbed into Latvian, Finnish, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, and English before international distribution. It is also planned for it to be dubbed into Ukrainian, but at this moment it is impossible to say if it will happen in 2022 or 2023. Erik Stoneheart will have its domestic premiere in Estonia in December 2022. EF
Since the beginning on the war, our society has been faced with the massive problem of the loss of parents among children. By now, this topic has become even more pertinent. ESTONIAN FILM
Producer on the MOVE Producer Evelin Penttilä, participating in the Producers on the Move Programme held by Cannes European Film Promotion, is busy with both films and TV series; domestic projects, as well as those with international ambitions. How does she manage? By Maria Ulfsak Photo by Virge Viertek
Evelin, let’s start with director Jaak Kilmi’s feature film The Sleeping Beauty that premiered at the end of April in Estonia. This is already the second children’s film you completed with Jaak Kilmi. How did the production process go, considering the fact it had to be filmed during the pandemic?
Jaak first shared the idea of the film with me in 2015, and I was immediately intrigued by it. The production process of The Sleeping Beauty was postponed due to international financing issues, but it also had a positive effect – we got Nils, our protagonist, who moved to Estonia exactly at that time. He was the perfect actor for the role, whom we had been searching for a long time. Since we were filming in the summer of 2019, and it took place in Estonia, we had no bigger problems caused by the pandemic, and the whole thing went smoothly. However, there were issues with the post-production process, since traveling to Latvia and Lithuania was restricted. We overcame this with effective planning, and the film actually benefitted from the buffer zones caused by the COVID-19. Here I would also like to express my gratitude to the Estonian Ministry of Culture who supported the film with a special grant during the times of the pandemic. You are a producer constantly busy with international projects, especially those related to our neighbouring countries Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania. You are also involved in numerous minority co-production projects, as well as subcon-
tracting. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We have extremely good connections with our neighbours. It all has happened organically and one thing has led to another. The newest collaboration is Barbarians (director Juris Kursietis, main producer Alise Gelze from White Picture) – I’ve known Alise for a long time, and I met Juris when we were jury members at the Black Nights’ Film Festival last December. It was also when he first introduced me to his new film, with a similar criticism of society as Oleg, only this time the central theme is corruption. This year, we hope to release another Latvian co-production film Lovable (director Stanislavs Tokalovs, producer Aija Bērziņa, production company Tasse Film). The film tells a modern story about a young man who is completely self-centred, and who unexpectedly has to has to become a more caring and selfless person. A completely different film is Hit Big – a collaboration with Finland (director JP Valkeapää, producers Daniel Kuitunen and Kaisla Viitala from Komeetta Film). With Daniel and Kaisla, our collaboration started during Maria’s Paradise, and now they are waiting for me to offer an Estonian collaboration project. Besides doing lots of work together, we have also developed a friendship with them. However, when talking about my so-called “regulars”, Emilie Dubois from Insolence Productions must certainly be mentioned, who did the sales of Bad Hair (directed by Oskar Lehemaa) for the French TV channel Canal+, and currently Emilie is co-producer for the short film Weight of Light. ESTONIAN FILM
PRODUCER On the set of Light.
Photos by Stellar
Evelin is very keen of winter swimming.
You recently went to India, connected with the filming of Weight of Light. This is the new film by Anna Hints. Would you say a bit more about this?
Those who have seen the documentary Paradise Will Arrive Tomorrow about food saving, know that Anna is interested in garbage. Well, that obviously means that Anna worries about the surrounding environment and green living. Weight of Light adds another theme extremely important to the director – girls’ and women’s rights to make choices in their lives. These themes are also essential for me. The screenplay was written together with Tushar Prakash, with whom Anna lived, both in Tartu and Delhi since 2016. They were inspired by a story they heard from a local non-profit organisation. The film has been shot, and it has now entered the editing phase. Our strong female production team also includes Emilie from France (who is also a co-producer of Anna’s short film Ice), and Tanvi Gandhi from India (who has succeeded as a woman producer in Bollywood). Our story is very important for Tanvi; and we were also strongly motivated by the female member of our film crew in India – several of them joined our team because of that. You have completed several projects in collaboration with top filmmakers in Finland – Omerta 6/12 with Aku Louhimies, Helene with Antti Jokinen, Maria’s Paradise with Zaida Bergroth. The Estonian and Finnish film industry function in a true symbiosis.
The Estonian and Finnish film industries are closely connected – the geographical proximity of the two countries certainly plays an important role here, but also the fact that both Estonians and Finns have very similar approaches towards work and life. Estonia’s great filmmaking cache and excellent cash rebate is attractive to filmmakers all over the world – but what is also important for the Estonian film industry is financing from Finland. There are numerous great filmmak-
The wrap-up party of The Sleeping Beast.
ers in Finland whom we know well. Our Finnish friends are really important for us in Stellar for exactly the same reasons – participation in minority co-production projects has created great mutual relations between Estonia and Finland, so that our partners also help us with our films. Cash rebate projects are important for us – both for economic reasons, and for providing great opportunities to polish our film making skills. Without these projects we wouldn’t have the start-up capital in order to support Estonian filmmakers in developing and producing their films. It’s a great symbiosis between Tallinn and Helsinki. During the past few years, you have also been involved in producing TV series – Omerta will become a series; you were also collaborating with the Finnish TV series Bad Apples; and another series-to-be is Invincibles. Does a successful film producer also have to be involved in producing film series?
Everyone is now busy with series, the genre is huge nowadays. Unfortunately, the financing capacities of domes-
The team of Bad Hair at Estonian Film and Televison Awards’ gala.
The premiere of Omerta.
It’s both wonderful and complicated when your work is also your lifestyle and hobby at the same time. tic TV channels, a cornerstone of the financial plan for a quality TV series, are still scarce, so that producing internationally thriving stories is extremely complicated. According to our logic, the Estonian market is too small for films and series produced for local markets only. Ideas are not the problem in Estonia – there are many of these, but yes, the problem lies in financing the good quality TV series.
Evelin with her coursemates at ACE.
exchange ideas and experience. This is going to be the first time when we introduce our new film in development At Your Service (screenplay by Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman who are best known for their screenplay for Compartment No. 6), directed by German Golub who won the Student Academy Award with My Dear Corpses. This year has been again unusual, the war in Ukraine has brought unexpected situations also in the field of filmmaking – unfortunately, we also had to pause one film project in development. Naturally, this is not as tragic as the war itself. We are currently working on many projects in the development phase in collaboration with Estonian filmmakers. Several projects are really exciting and I hope that among the new contacts found in Cannes there will be people we could start producing these projects with. EF
Since you are often busy with several projects at once, you probably work all the time. What are your ways of relaxing – do you have time for that?
Well, it’s both wonderful and complicated when your work is also your lifestyle and hobby at the same time. In order to avoid burnout at work you must set strict borders between work and rest. I do have a few tricks – for instance I am a dedicated winter swimmer because this is something that clears your head for the year. I regularly practice sports, and read a lot of books. Also, I’m very outdoorsy, and spend time with family and friends; I also enjoy cooking at home – these are simple things bringing joy and obviously protecting me. What kind of plans and expectations do you have towards this year’s Cannes Producers on the Move?
I am very happy that I was chosen by European Film Promotion to participate, and I really hope to meet similar professionals from all over Europe, in order to ESTONIAN FILM
Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting The director Rainer Sarnet, who won acclaim with his 2017 hit film November, has finished shooting his next movie. The Invisible Fight is a kung fu comedy set in an Orthodox monastery in 1970’s Soviet Union. By Maria Ulfsak Photos by Iris Kivisalu and Gabirela Urm
he film with a budget of 2.7 million euro, is produced by Katrin Kissa from Estonia (Homeless Bob Production). Other producers are Alise Gelze from Latvia (White Picture), Amanda Livanou from Greece (Neda Film), and Helen Vinogradov from Finland (Helsinki-filmi). The executive producing companies of The Invisible Fight are Flag from Japan, and Tallifornia from Estonia. According to the producer Katrin Kissa, the process of making the film happen has been quite demanding. “Sarnet’s idea for the film is so original and unconventional that along with the ex-
citement it created constantly new challenges. The financing scheme is quite noteworthy - it involves Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Finalnd and Japan. The project received a remarkable amount 360,000 euro from Eurimages as well. Also Estonian private money has been included in the making of the film. Estonian state support was up to the maximum amount, although it accounts for only 35% of the budget; meaning the rest of the financing had to come from elsewhere, and some quite elaborate schemes executed to get the financing together.” The film was shot in Estonia, Latvia, and Greece, and the technical aspect of the shots really drove up the cost. “This
The Invisible Fight is like an explosion – a volatile blend of various components mixed together, and nobody knows how these components will interact with each other
(From the left) Actors Ursel Tilk and Ester Kuntu on the set working with the director Rainer Sarnet.
has been the most difficult aspect of all – it is almost unbearable to admit to yourself that unfortunately big risks have to be taken and inevitable cuts made, even with a pretty sizable budget. Our current budget of 2.7 million euro is the largest amount I could raise for this slightly riskier film, considering Estonian state support, our population, and the way co-productions work. I have to say, a lot can be done with this amount, but it is still insufficient for true creative freedom, in case of such an endeavour with a little bit more ambition. Every step needs to be invented and figured out,” Kissa says. In her words, The Invisible Fight is like an explosion – a volatile blend of various components mixed together, and nobody knows how these components will interact with each other. “The film has influences from pop culture, iconography, the Seventies, kung fu, and exploitation cinema. Hopefully the result will be the best entertainment possible,” adds Kissa. The Invisible Fight, written and directed by Rainer Sarnet, takes viewers to the USSR-China border in 1973. Private Rafael is on guard duty when the border post falls under the attack of Chinese kung-fu warriors. Rafael is the only one to miraculously survive, images of hippie-looking fighters running along branches, Black Sabbath playing on the radio, forever embedded in his memory. Later, when seeing similar-looking monks in a monastery yard, he has an epiphany, and decides to become a monk himself. The road to achieving the almighty power of humility is long and ESTONIAN FILM
NEWS Cinematographer Mart Taniel (on the left) with director Rainer Sarnet.
The filming period generated a lot of good spirits despite the technical challenges. winding, offering turns both comical and enlightening. The proud Rafael seems to have been given a gift of powerful prayer, but he has to prove to Father Melhisedek, the elder monk Nafanail, flirtatious Rita, and his rival and adversary Irinei, that he is indeed capable of becoming the enlightened man who can unite power and tenderness. The cinematographer of the film is Mart Taniel, who won the American Society of Cinematographers’ Spotlight award for his work on November. The production designer of the project is Jaagup Roomet, art directors are Mārtiņš Straupe and Evelyna Darzenta, costume designers are Jaanus Vahtra and Berta Vilispone. The editor of the film is Jussi Rautaniemi, and the sound designer is Janne Laine. The man behind the VFX is Antonis Kotzias. The lead roles are played by Ursel Tilk, Ester Kuntu, Kaarel Pogga, Indrek Sammul, Maria Avdjuško, Rain Simmul, Tiina Tauraite, Mari Abel, etc. The shooting period was stretched out over quite a long period of time. It took almost 55 days, began in August 2021, and ended in May 2022. “I don’t even know if the shooting period warrants the tales of a grand menagerie of problems, or amazing successes, but it would
be fair to say that there was more than enough of both. The pre-production period clashed with the start of the pandemic, and we were excited, because we thought that by the time of the shoot enough time would have been passed for the World to have been unlocked. The reality turned out to be different, and we stumbled at almost every step, getting tangled in COVID-related complications. I began financing the film in 2019, and the planned budget was turned upside down by 2021. The salaries rose by almost 30%, new taxes were added to the fees, and the cost of building materials went up because of transportation restrictions. Then the energy crisis hit, elevating the general level of costs. As if that were not enough, the price of fuel almost doubled. Right before the last shooting period, the
war broke out in Ukraine. Peculiar problems with transportation followed, the price of airline tickets went up, and the costume department couldn’t get the necessary materials from Russia any longer. All this in one year,” says Kissa, and adds that with The Invisible Fight, she has earned a black belt in film production. “With all the mathematical and technical complexity, it has to be said that the shooting period was extraordinarily pleasant. I got the feeling that Rainer managed to ignite everyone involved with his ideas, so that the filming period generated a lot of good spirits despite the technical challenges. I see the crew as a first test audience – if they don’t get hyped, then we may push this film up the hill like a heavy rock, but it won’t stay there, and it doesn’t get any lighter with the next attempts. So based on those testing results, I can’t wait the film to be finished,” the producer adds.. EF
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Elen Lotman A Professional Optimist
Elen Lotman is the first female cinematographer shooting full-length feature films in Estonian film history. At the end of last year, she received a PhD in Film Studies, with a dissertation called Experiential Heuristics in Fiction Film Cinematography. By Johannes Lõhmus Photos by Heikki Leis, Maris Kilmi and Viktor Koshkin
len has translated books on film semiotics by her grandfather, the famous semiotician Yuri Lotman from Russian into Estonian, and is very passionate about everything to do with teaching. A few years ago, she was responsible for educating the new crop of Estonian film students in Baltic Film and Media School. Last September, she was elected the co-president of IMAGO, International Federation of Cinematographers. She is an unbelievably diverse filmmaker and film thinker. Her recent work includes the psychological thriller The Sleeping Beast, that has just been theatrically released in Estonia. Your parents are biologists, and in the beginning of your career you were labelled as a nature film director, although you seem to have made only one film that is related to nature – a short doc Jägermeister (2004) about hunters. What is the role of nature in your professional development as a cinematographer?
From my parents, I have inherited an evidence-based
worldview that is rooted in natural sciences. It helped me a lot at first, because I am a verbal rather than visual person. Many cinematographers are very intuitive. They rarely speak but can set a camera up at a completely perfect angle. With me, it’s different – I need to process things through words and at the start of my career had quite a hard time with understanding the image. I began looking for answers in neurosciences and knowing how visual processing happens in the brain still helps me a lot when I shoot. You said that you are more verbal than most cinematographers, and that is very welcome, because you publish articles in the press and defended a dissertation, helping to analyse your profession. How do you verbalize and relay the proposed film language, and does it diﬀer from the methods of the more visually intuitive DoPs?
There is a chapter in my dissertation, where I try to understand what these working methods are, because most of a cinematographer’s preparation is quite ephemeral. I tried to describe, how every kind of creaESTONIAN FILM
COVER STORY tive thinking – not only related to cinematographers – tends to happen in two phases. First is the divergent chaotic phase where a maximum number of elements is introduced, experimented, and played with, before starting to make choices and narrowing down the options. The basis of any creative thinking is the divergent process, where new associations between different unconnected elements are formed, that could not occur without the widening phase. Otherwise, without the divergent phase, we tend to repeat something that has already been done. The reason why clichés work is that they feel right, because you recognize them. But the reason you recognize them is not because they are inherently good or original, but because someone has already used them before. The expansion phase allows us to break free of this cycle of first, trivial ideas. I really like the film Robby Müller: Living the Light (2018), where director Claire Pijman uses the material filmed with Robby Müller’s own Hi8 camera, and an interesting document of a lifestyle emerges, where he constantly filmed everything, wherever he went. Watching this, you start to notice some elements that are familiar from his films, and it gives a chance to experience the subconscious creative process, where a cinematographer constantly records reality and finds random pieces of it that mirror one’s internal gist representation of the situation. It’s a place where creative associations start to form that are essential for developing the ability to solve problems. Every time our brain encounters an obstacle, a neurological reaction occurs, called constraint relaxation. Boundaries have to be expanded to let oneself free and allow the brain to dive into the chaotic process, that will create new associations between so far unconnected nodes. A line from your article caught my eye: cinematographer’s work creates real feeling of contentment. Could you elaborate a little?
Cinematographer can both create imagery that leads the audience to new meanings, and create the feeling of aesthetic pleasure. We know from neurosciences, that there are dopamine receptors in the visual system of the human brain, which means my work can actually create pleasure for someone. A book I just translated, Yuri Lotman’s and Yuri Tsivyan’s Dialogue with the Screen ends with a statement that human culture is a thinking device of humanity that records and processes information, and gives meaning to our existence. One very important thing that culture does, is creating new meanings and worlds that can only happen through art. And as cinema is life amplified, it’s potential and responsibility as a meaning-generator for humanity is enormous. I see its untapped potential primarily in general education. What about you?
Judging by my three kids who are 13, 10 and 5, I see how the importance of audio-visual language multiplies with every generation. It’s much easier for them
to communicate through images and sounds than words. In order to avoid the situation where schools would become totally anachronistic places where everyone dies of boredom, we should integrate as much of the new language that the younger generation is actually using, into the curriculum, as possible. The teenage years are perhaps the most social period in a person’s life. It is a time when one senses the need to leave the safe wolfpack of a birth family and evolutionary need to find your own people. In school, the potential for social interaction is woefully underused: everyone sits, facing in the same direction, everyone relying to this one authoritative person for information. It seems to me that if schools would encourage students to look more at each other, and do things together, then educational subject matter would really turn into acquired and experienced knowledge. Why not make the next biology or history class assignment as a short documentary film or comic sketch? Think about what cinema is – it’s really a game. It’s our way to simulate certain situations, without actually having to experience them and possibly suffer. That is why all kinds of narratives about change, overcoming obstacles, getting to know yourself, or growing up as a person, are so popular. Yuri Lotman has written a lot about game as a mental state that takes place in a space balancing between belief and disbelief. If kids play war, for example, they cannot believe it too much, or else they would end up fighting for real, believing too little, on the other hand, would ruin the game. So, the game can only be successful when we believe and don’t believe at the same time. In that sense, our ability to immerse ourselves in a film, and be aware that it’s not real at the same time, is quite a challenge cognitively. It develops the ability of balancing two contradictory concepts in our mind – a prerequisite for any intelligent person. Humour works the same way.
Going along with a game and participating in it could also show a person’s ability to achieve some sort of empathic arrangements?
In the 19th Century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. It means that in order to enjoy a game, you have to give up on the notion that what I experience is not real voluntarily. In understanding that there is an active interpretation process during the film perception, a person’s ability to open up to the world will improve significantly, and we will not accept propaganda blindly at face value. Thus,
Elen Lotman (on the left) and her team on the set of The Sleeping Beast.
Just by watching different films, you can experience a simulation of different worlds, and that makes you more open as a human being.
cinema is not just essential for cultural people to survive, but for human culture in general. Just by watching different films, you can experience a simulation of different worlds, and that makes you more open as a human being. For instance, David Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning presumes that you will find something out, then try it out, analyse the result, and try again. So, when kids are watching a comic book movie, it is crucial for them to try and figuratively run their head into a wall a couple of times afterwards, to see that reality is different from cinema. Cinema has to simulate a conflict, or cycle of the rise and relief of tension, without making us really participate in it, and the more the audiences have experienced films, the better their ability to transfer the experience to their real life. In my opinion the rise and relief of tension has been very well tuned in The Sleeping Beast.
We worked hard on manipulating tension in that film. I have been lucky, because with The Sleeping Beast and Lauri Randla’s Goodbye Soviet Union before that, I had a chance to prepare the films with the directors ESTONIAN FILM
COVER STORY so that we could later handle those selected five Brown particles on the set. Jaak is easy to work with, because he is a director who is constantly seeking something and never gets stuck in one place. He is inquisitive and searching but never aimlessly meandering. His search always has a direction and it’s a pleasure to accompany him on this journey, because every input is very welcome, but everything still goes through a director’s filter. It was a very agreeable space for working: you have a director that gives you enough freedom but also offers certainty, and doesn’t let any idea through that doesn’t fit his vision. over a longer time, and I really love working with the script. When I started out as a cinematographer, I had a life-changing experience at the 2005 Berlinale Talent Campus. I met Christopher Doyle by chance and ended up as his apprentice on Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves (2006). On that shoot, something began that lasts until this day. I understood, by watching Chris work, that there is only one thing in the world one can be the best in: that is being myself. Everything else probably someone else can do better, but being me is something that only I can do. During this process, I understood that an analytic approach, which makes me work on a script extensively, is not a problem as it seemed to me once; but I am valued for precisely these abilities. There’s a saying: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature”. Directors have mostly embraced me with open arms and trusted me, but in the case of the last two films, the process has been exceptionally rewarding. How was your cooperation with Jaak Kilmi, and what were his expectations of you?
The Sleeping Beast was a big trip out of the comfort zone for me, because Jaak wanted a very natural, almost documentary-like hand-held image. I have used that in documentaries before, but not in features. I am very grateful to the scriptwriter Aidi Vallik, who was very open, and our cooperation was pleasantly flexible and trusting, enabling us to accommodate the script to casting and locations. It was a wonderful process where you could feel that every part influences another, so that the whole could be as good as possible. A remarkably long casting and rehearsal period with the kids fit very naturally into that environment and was extremely important. In addition to trying out scenes, it involved a lot of playing without any special purpose, and playing with relationships. I was constantly filming this, so that I could get to know the material as well as possible during the rehearsal, before the shooting begins. All in all, it was a very rewarding cooperation. The development and pre-production period were very well organized by the production team,
How did you prepare the visual language of The Sleeping Beast?
The Sleeping Beast, directed by Jaak Kilmi and captured by Elen Lotman, is a thriller for the whole family.
The visual language had to be as natural as possible. That is a very hard thing to achieve – you have to try the most to achieve the simple look. The dynamics developed in rehearsals were very beneficial here, and I would develop it further during the shooting period. I understood that I have to create an environment of controlled chaos. For example, adding some new unpredicted elements, like different B-camera operators. It was part of finding the gist of the story. The Sleeping Beast is the first film of mine where I had a B camera, and that allowed us to bring more chaos into the visual language. We were looking for ways to get close to the children and their world, and to be ready to react quickly, when necessary. In my work, I follow the socalled FFF principle of functionalist architecture – form follows function. So, in terms of the narrative, this is a story of how one person needs to find courage to stand against the group, thus I worked on the blocking and the mise-en-scene of the actors in a way that it would indicate the development of conflict and the group dynamics that emerge. Together with the gaffer Andrus Ilp and production designer Getter Vahar, we concentrated on creating and lighting the space where the kids would have enough opportunities to act, and I had space to find the suitable frame. With a more static film language, I usually work on a frame like a painter, adding dots of accent to achieve depth or specific emotion. In a dynamic, constantly changing setting, you need to create an environment with the possibility of contrast to mark the fast shift in the situation. All of this needs to be done in a way that would allow the kids to maintain their level of agility, but also that the crew could stay professional and productive. Looking back, the making of this film was a very special experience for me. EF
Frontline Cameraman Ivar Heinmaa is an Estonian war correspondent and documentary filmmaker currently working in Ukraine. During his career, he has followed conflicts and wars in more than 50 countries, including Yugoslavia, Chechnya, etc. By Filipp Kruusvall Photos by Ivar Heinmaa
einmaa’s latest film Women on the Frontline (2021) is a story about four women who, in spring 2014, after the attack of Russian proxies, decided to fight for their homeland Ukraine. The film depicts the war through the eyes of women. It’s not just a story about heroism, it is also about the consequences of violence on mental and physical health.
Ivar, are you shooting a sequel to your film Women on the Frontline?
No, currently I’m shooting in Ukraine for Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. I would like to follow the fate of the characters of my documentary, but now I can’t go to the Eastern side of the country, where war is looming. The Ukrainian army is quite strict, and is not permitting free movement in the battle zones. That’s quite natural, because at the moment there are thousands of different journalists in Ukraine. They don’t want to take the risk and allow them to wander around freely, as some journalists and photographers near Kyiv got killed. When we visited Butcha, there was around 150 journalists. We arrived there
Ivar Heinmaa’s photos from Butcha (from the right), Kharkiv and Irpin.
with ten buses, we were wearing helmets and bulletproof vests. It was odd to stand there and see locals around, children playing, etc. without such protection. I have been here already one month. And I have had contact with the women from my film, especially with Xena. In the beginning, she said that her positions on the frontline were heavily attacked; later, it was a bit calmer. Generally, I can visit her, but she said she could receive a new order any minute and change her position. The only one I don’t know anything about is Aleksandra from my film. I can’t reach her phone, and no one knows what has happened to her. Probably her village is occupied by Russians, or the phone coverage is lost. Others are in a safe place and volunteering to help their country. Where have you been, what places have you visited?
We were in Kyiv and its suburbs, Irpen and Butcha. We have been to Chernigiv. We visited Jahidne village; there was a cellar where for 45 days, around 360 people were forced by the Russian army to stay in a 70 square metres basement. It was so crowded that some people tied themselves up so they could sleep while standing. We have also been to Harkiv, Mykolaiv, and Odesa. Now I’m back in Kyiv. Actually, I found a fascinating character. One young man from Finland, a very talented cello player - Lukas Stasevskij. He has been in Ukraine since the war began. He studied film in Kyiv for about a year, and during this time, he has kept a video diary. But now, he goes to play his cello in places that have been totally demolished during the war. His father is Ukrainian, and his mother is from Lithuania, but he was born in Tallinn. Afterwards, he lived in Finland. He takes his cello and just plays in destroyed plac-
Everything is destroyed, people who have been for weeks in a basement are very grateful for just food. es. He was in Butcha, for example. He is a real patriot of Ukraine, and he also organizes humanitarian aid, etc. Have you tried to have an interview with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
with all the devices like the washing machine, fridge, etc. And he said that he must pay a lease for two years for them. But everything is destroyed. Maybe there will be some funding for recovery in the future, but now... For how long do you plan to stay?
We are currently speaking in the middle of April. I think I will stay for at least a few more weeks. It is a hotspot of the world here, and it’s a very rattling feeling. You are like a part of the history here. If we consider Kyiv, it’s relatively peaceful, and life continues. Every day, some new dining places are open. Supermarkets are open, and you have everything you need. If you have the money, of course. How is the morale among Ukrainians?
No, it’s hopeless. There’s no access to him. Maybe only the most prominent news channels in the world have some hope of interviewing him. He is really well secured and protected. The chance of meeting him is 0,1%. The whole area in Kyiv around the president’s palace is very strictly guarded, because it’s clear that the Russians are hunting him.
The morale of Ukrainians is very high. It’s impressive and mighty. They don’t seem to be afraid of anything and are ready to go to the battle. They are really well equipped now. In 2014, the equipment was really poor, but now soldiers look really sharp and professional. They are strong and have excellent uniforms, bulletproof vests, etc.
What do Ukrainians need the most at the moment?
Give the warmest greetings from Estonia to Ukrainians and tell them that the whole Estonian film industry is also working really hard to support Ukraine.
We just buy food for local people to share in every new place we go. Some basic products. Everything is destroyed, people who have been for weeks in a basement are very grateful for just food. It’s tough for the locals to just manage everyday life. For example, yesterday we visited Irpin, and we met one man who had a lovely single-family house. It was damaged by shelling and halfburned, and he showed us the kitchen
Estonians are received exceptionally well here. You don’t have to explain how Estonia helps; everyone knows it. When someone asked who I was in the old days, I said I am from Finnish television. But now, the first thing I say is Estonia and it is immediately responded with, ‘oh, our brothers!’ EF ESTONIAN FILM
New Wor Matis Mäesalu is a renowned production designer, who is known for his ability to create extraordinary time-spaces with immaculate details and sense of atmosphere. Mäesalu is an artist who studied painting and scenography, and works together with his creative team on both Estonian and international projects, moving from set to set like a band on tour. By Maria Ulfsak Photo by Viktor Koshkin
Photos by Robert Lang
his Spring, two big Estonian feature films were completed, with Matis and his team involved in the production. The first part of Elmo Nüganen’s historical Melchior trilogy was domestically released in April. Triin Ruumet’s Estonian-French co-production Dark Paradise, an unusual and unnerving story of a young woman’s soul searching, will be released later this year.
Matis, let’s start with Melchior. A medieval crime story that encompasses three films and a TV series is huge work for a production designer. How did the process work?
I don’t think I’ve had a project of this magnitude before. Actually – Rainer Sarnet’s November wasn’t too far behind if you take the amount of shooting days. It’s just that with Melchior, three films were shot simultaneously, and it took about 10-15 more days altogether. Time was seriously condensed during that period. For me, the offer to come and make this medieval story happen was irresistible. Most of the projects I’ve done have been set in the past. The Middle Ages is a period that I hadn’t visited but wanted to. One film or seven – in my case there’s no difference. The work is the same in a way.
It was not an easy task to create Medieval Tallinn for the Melchior trilogy.
There were two deciding factors – first, the period, and second, Tallinn. How to discover the city in a way that would make a place instantly recognizable in a certain era? What materials to use? How to make a historical film or television drama in a way that people on the other side of the world would also feel intrigued by the place? It was indeed a great challenge. I don’t work as a solo artist. Our team is like a band – all those people that make up the art department and who travel with me from film to film. It was a big opportunity for us. In the case of a period from such a distant past, we had to make basically everything from scratch. Scouting was exciting – you are aware of some ruins or a suitably old-looking room, but the question is, how to sew it all together into one universe. Not quite from scratch, because Tallinn is a Medieval town, right? Couldn’t you make use of that?
It is a common mistake to assume. When the producers called and said, “We have the Old Town right there – let’s get on it!”, then I had to tell them with great sadness that Tallinn old town is not Medieval Tallinn. It took a long time for them to realize that we had to come
Matis Mäesalu was born in 1987 in Haapsalu. He studied painting at the University of Tartu and scenography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. His filmography includes: 2022-2023 Apothecary Melchior trilogy (dir. Elmo Nüganen), production designer 2020 Goodbye Soviet Union (dir. Lauri Randla), set decorator 2020 Rain (dir. Janno Jürgens), production designer 2020 Erna at War (dir. Henrik Ruben Genz), art director 2019 Truth or Justice (dir. Tanel Toom), set decorator 2018 Phantom Owl Forest (dir. Anu Aun), production designer 2018 The Riddle of Jaan Niemand (dir. Kaur Kokk), production designer 2017 November (dir. Rainer Sarnet), production designer (with Jaagup Roomet) 2016 The Days that Confused (dir. Triin Ruumet), production designer
Random Solutions was founded by two brothers, Matis and Meinar Mäesalu. Matis is the artistic director, production and set designer, Meinar is the technical director. With their professional team, they offer set design and building.
up with something else. Yes, there are stones, walls, statues we could use, but if you go into an old churchyard, for example, and there’s nothing there, you have got to fill it with something. But the Estonian National Heritage Board won’t allow that! You cannot dig or build anything, there’s a lot of rules. For example, there is an episode in the Melchior script, where a large wall collapses in a churchyard. Reading this, I was wondering how we could possibly do that. The only suitable monastery in a thousand-mile radius is the St. Catherine’s Monastery in Tallinn. It’s evident that it has to happen there – but how to pull it off without collapsing the old monastery? When starting to think about solutions to these problems, one has to use all the tricks – from building and drawing skills, to painting and creating small details. In case you need an altar, there’s nothing left to do but build it. There were plenty of such challenges. What was your foundation for creating the world of Melchior? Paintings of that period? Some Medieval scriptures?
19th Century painting is the latest relatively reliable
and clear insight into Medieval Tallinn, so I was relying on that a lot. I was also guided by my work on previous films. Sort of my personal perception of history, formed through my film works. Every film adds an era or a segment, and different bits rely partly on each other. For example, I take a film like The Riddle of Jaan Niemand, and rewind back a bit. In November, farmhouses have windows, in The Riddle, not. All these small details form a sort of peculiar system in my head. A film is always a co-operation with others. Next to my perception, there is the director’s vision, the work of the actors, etc. No vision of mine makes it to the screen completely untouched. The historical films and television dramas that I’ve seen play a big part too. I’ve watched so many, that something has probably stuck.
In the case of a period from such a distant past as The Middle Ages, the art department of the film has to create basically everything from scratch.
What are the absolute peaks among the films you have professionally admired?
Everything about The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, the trilogy was directed by Peter Jackson - ed.) is just jaw-dropping. When making Melchior, I was greatly influenced by the historical war film The King (2019, directed by David Michôd – ed.), for example. ESTONIAN FILM
IN FOCUS Most of the films you have made have been period pieces in one way or another. Triin Ruumet’s The Days that Confused (2016) takes place in the 1990s, Rainer Sarnet’s November (2017) sometime in the 19th Century, Kaur Kokk’s The Riddle of Jaan Niemand (2018) after the Northern War. Even Janno Jürgens’ Rain (2020) or Anu Aun’s Phantom Own Forest (2018) are not contemporary, but in some altered time and space. Is this a coincidence that you have so far been largely able to avoid our modern times?
A complete coincidence. The script of Rain was initially set in the 1980s, but we chose a more intriguing way to
and form. It can be interpreted in various ways, it’s a layered and intriguing universe, where a lot remains a mystery. For me too. How do you pick the projects you work on?
twist time. Phantom Own Forest has the same game going on, only it’s more concealed – for example, the grandfather of the protagonist is still somewhat dwelling in Soviet times. Why do I go to so much trouble with a children’s film? I think it’s an interesting game, twisting time and space. Please tell us about Triin Ruumet’s new feature, Dark Paradise. It’s your second film together with this director. How did the shooting go?
This time, the starting point was that Triin was to have complete creative freedom to realize her vision, and it was up to us to support that. We arrived at some weird understanding. We were in a hurry. I finished the decorations, and they were satisfied. There was no time to re-do or change anything. When the group started filming, I did not interfere, and let them work in peace. A completely unique experience – you shouldn’t get used to this. It happens very rarely. We did discuss things a lot with Triin, but neither of us had to follow our progress to the letter, we had a bond of total mutual trust. A production designer is a bit like a storyteller – I had a chance to join with her world. I created my own world, and she created hers – these were able to exist together. We are different people, and at times grasp thing differently, but together it all becomes a modern fairy-tale in content
Examples of great interiors created by Matis and his team. From the top: The Riddle of Jaan Niemand, November and Dark Paradise.
It depends. I am quite bad at saying “no”. I usually give it a go, but if I see I am not really needed, I will propose not to continue. It is good to understand as early as possible that you are not needed. Sometimes I get invited out of habit or custom. I am a very bad and impatient cinemagoer. When I am reading a script and it occurs to me that I wouldn’t go and see it at the cinema in a million years, then I have no desire to work on the project. The joy of doing things together actually outweighs everything else. My friend Janno (Janno Jürgens – ed.) explained why we make movies at all: films are made in order for someone to hear you out. As long as my team knows what we did, and that we did it well, I am satisfied. You have a very thankless job. The audience doesn’t have a clue how much the artistic team contributes, and how much work is done. People think that the team goes to a location, everything necessary is waiting there, and the film is shot. How hard can it be to pick the right coloured tablecloth, and arrange chairs around the table correctly, right?
Most of the team thinks the same way. At first, you
think that everyone understands the scope of our work, but then some boom guy arrives to the set and is surprised: “Oh wow, how did you find such a cool place, you don’t need to do anything here!” Even when everything around us is artificially created and even the walls are brought in! It’s often the case that you try not to disclose that something is shot in the studio instead of a flat, not to ruin the illusion for the audience. You need to keep secrets. For example, we can say only now that Rain was not shot in an apartment, for example, but in the studio.
For us, the prefect pace would be one film a year. I have discovered that two films a year is good as well – but only if the shooting periods overlap. Most of the filming is just waiting and hanging around. In case that starts again, you can always say that you are needed on the other set. That way, you can spend time only on substantial things. In the case of Melchior, we basically had to do three films in one year – then there was no time for anything else. It is quite easy to burn out, the workload can become too much. On the other hand, you need to keep a normal pace, so that the whole crew keeps in shape and stays professional. Our current props team has worked together for more than five years. What are you currently working on? I know you have also worked as an art director on Henrik Ruben Ganz’s Erna at War (2020), do you have any other international projects happening?
I am the art director on another Danish project shot in Estonia, a TV series. It’s called Family and it’s based on a true story about the complicated world of Danish biker gangs at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. The war affects our work too – a lot of projects were planned for the summer, but it’s all become a bit unclear at the moment. Estonia doesn’t have a professional pavilion yet, but we can offer all kinds of set building and such with our team. The interest in that is quite high. What would you like to do in the future? Is there a genre or an era that you’d still like to try out?
I don’t like to watch horror movies myself, but I would participate in the making of one gladly. For me as an artist, it would offer a wide variety of options. It would be an interesting thing to do, so I just hope for a good story. EF
Elmo Nüganen, director of Apothecary Melchior: “Cooperation with Matis Mäesalu was terrific and based on the wonderful synergy of his characteristic traits and professionalism. He’s an artist, although not selfish or self-imposing. With no doubt he has the ego of an artist, but it doesn’t conflict with the egos of others. He’s willing to cooperate. He can pitch ideas himself, and also develop the ideas of other people. The same relaxed atmosphere applies to working with his team. Every time I encountered one of them, I felt a peaceful but solid work rhythm and good atmosphere. I knew how much they had to do, with very little time; I was well-aware there could always be more resources. Matis picks the right people for his team and creates a good vibe for working. He has a great sense of period and style, good taste, and knowledge of Elmo Nüganen the material. He can be the leader of the artistic team, or act as an artist himself. What is most valuable: he can envision a world, make an accurate drawing, and then create it with his own hands. Like a real demiurge. There are not many artists like this around. Matis has another characteristic I admire. Estonians have a phrase for it – peasant wisdom. It’s the mix of a practical mind and inventiveness, and it emerges when there’s not enough time, money, or resources. He doesn’t lose contact with the ground, no matter how high he flies. Or, to paraphrase: try to spread your wings and fly, however hard you are being pushed to the ground. Matis’ contribution is substantial. Both in the pre-production phase – with location scouting and preparation, all the big decisions about the pavilion, or possibly building a large set – and the shooting period. You can say the whole visual side is the work of the teams of Matis and the cinematographer Mihkel Soe. For example, the principle of lighting the film: warm light coming from one side (flame, candles, a fireplace, a torch) and cold light from the other (natural light, a window, a door).” ESTONIAN FILM
Photos by Robert Lang
You have a very stable, professional team. You, your brother Meinar Mäesalu, and the rest of the “band”. What’s the perfect rhythm for you? How many projects can you take on in a year?
A Story about Roosi Margit Lillak
Becoming Roosi by Margit Lillak received a Radio Télévision Suisse award at Visions du Réel VdR–Industry pitch. Following up from The Circle (2019), director Margit Lillak follows the teenage girl Roosi, who grew up in an eco-commune as the daughter of an activist. By Filipp Kruusvall Photos by Virge Viertek and from Roosi’s private collection
he protagonist of the filmstruggles to cope with climate grief and guilt, torn between becoming an activist herself and finding her own life path through creativity. Lillak and Karolina Veetamm are producing for Tiny Desk Productions, and the film is expected to be released in November 2024. Margit, how did the Becoming Roosi project start, and where did you meet the main character of your film?
I met the protagonist Roosi in 2014, so already 8 years ago, when I was shooting my last feature-length documentary, The Circle. She was 8 then, and her mother was the frontwoman of the newly founded eco-village.
Roosi was taken to the commune against her will. She rebelled against the free-flow hippy lifestyle and education throughout the 5 years she stayed there. From the first moment she walked into my sight, I knew that there was something extraordinary about this child, the striking way she expressed her truth, and saw things from a very clear perspective. I never really related to her as a child, but more as an equal, a charismatic personality. We established a friendship over the 5 years of shooting in the eco-village. After that, we saw less of each other, but as I am friends with her parents, we ended up hanging out more. Just last autumn, when I was visiting them, I almost accidentally filmed a scene with Roosi - she
It is not another ﬁlm about a young activist; she is rather at a crossroads, what to do with her life, how to pursue her creative talents. is now 15 - and her mother. It hit me right then and there that here is a great story unrolling in front of my lens. The fact that I have all that juicy archive of her from the commune actually landed a bit later, and I realized that I had gold in my hands. How unique is such a story, and what does it say about the challenges and choices of the new generation?
What makes it unique is that through such an outspoken and original character like Roosi, we see something essential about the Z-generation. How hard it is for them to find their place and peace of mind at this time. It is not another film about a young activist; she is rather at a crossroads, what to do with her life, how to pursue her creative talents. At the same time, her heritage is a different burden from her peers. Her parents never made a secret about the state our planet since she was six. She has been burdened by climate grief and guilt since a very early age, and sometimes envies her peers who can enjoy the careless ecstasy of youth. Roosi is torn between her
eco-consciousness and her wish to pursue a creative career as a performative artist, struggling with the dilemma of whether she should follow her influential activist mother’s footsteps or break free. What is your own attitude towards eco-communities, and what life principles do you follow?
When I made my last film about the eco-village, I was massively influenced by their principles, trying to consume less. Mainly, what stuck with me was growing my own food in the summer, and composting organic waste all year round. I could never throw a banana peel into regular waste; I would rather slip it under a bush somewhere. And I learnt to grow my veggies on my own compost, which gives me the satisfaction of being part of the circulation of elements. But this journey with the community also demolished many illusions regarding groups and community life. Often people with mental health issues are drawn to communities, but actually, the community is not a therapist; this has to be done on an individual basis. And if in-
dividuals with deep, unhealed wounds land in a commune, it often can get out of hand. I am mainly interested in the social and collective side. Still, I struggle with how to preserve a special “held space” in everyday life. But overall, I don’t think we have a choice but to turn to a communal living of some sort if we want to survive. What is the current stage of the project, and what are your ambitions?
I was part of the Esodoc (European Social Documentary) workshop for nine months with the project. I entered with a very different idea, but it led me to Becoming Roosi. I am really grateful for all the amazing support from tutors and colleagues. And now we just pitched at Visions du Reel among the 16 projects. This was also a fantastic experience, with the way it was organized. We received a lot of very supportive and positive feedback from the industry, a prize from Swiss TV RTS, a pre-buy commitment of the film, and possibly a series for younger audiences. The RTS award is attributed to the project chosen to broadcast on their auteur documentary slot. We are working on the possible co-production with Germany and also France. We hope to develop the feature for an adult audience and the shorter series version for the youth, in collaboration with SWR German broadcaster and Arte. Our goal is to get wider distribution in different channels for both formats across the globe. EF
Sander Joon at Glasgow Short Film festival.
Animation is Flying High Estonian animation is no stranger to international film events. Several films, including Sander Joon’s Sierra and Ülo Pikkov’s ‘Til We Meet Again, are making waves at film festivals. By EFI Photos by Ingrid Mur and AAA Creative
ander Joon’s dark comedy Sierra premiered at prestigious short film event, Clermont-Ferrand in France at the beginning of this year. Ülo Pikkov’s ‘Til We Meet Again will be reaching international audiences in Annecy - the film has been selected for the Official Short Films Competition. DARK HUMOUR IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Sander Joon’s Sierra (2022) takes us on a
turbulent 3D race, telling the story of a boy who becomes a car tire. Recently, Sierra received the ARTE Short Film Award at Dresden Filmfest, where the youth jury also honoured the film with a special mention. Besides Dresden, Sierra has travelled to several notable festivals such as Aspen Shortfest, Go Short, Regard, GLAS, San Francisco IFF, IndieLisboa, goEast and Glasgow Short Film Festival. In Scotland, the film received a special mention from the international jury for
“its entertaining quality, strong cinematic feeling and cuteness”. In Riga, Sierra received the Best Baltic Short Film award from 2ANNAS. Martinus Klemet also uses 3D animation while expressing surreal ideas. Face Recognition (2021) by Klemet has travelled to animation festivals such as MONSTRA, Stuttgart, Fredrikstad and Brussels IAFF among others. The film premiered last year at Odense IFF, the oldest festival in Denmark. The Danes described the film as follows: “In a world where nothing or no one escapes the law, the only loophole is to get drunk. And in this colourful, absurd and entertaining animation; getting drunk means getting down and running amok”. ROOTS IN DOCUMENTARY ANIMATION
Unlike the surreal and often vibrant Estonian drawn and 3D animation, Ülo Pikkov’s stop-motion films have expanded on Estonia’s traumatic past, portraying topics such as deportation, grief, or homesickness. For years, Pikkov has been Estonia’s spokesperson for documentary animation. Pikkov’s latest, ‘Til We Meet
Again (2021) tells a poetic story set on the tiny Estonian island of Ruhnu. The puppets are made entirely of materials found on the island – sand, feathers, stones. Pikkov himself has explained that the fate of the people of Ruhnu has been very much in the crosswinds of history – like bits of reed on the beach that will be carried to another beach on the next wave, or on the next storm. Honouring the heritage of the island, the materials used for the film will be taken back to Ruhnu. This nostalgic, visually captivating stop-motion short premiered at PÖFF Shorts, and is now headed to Annecy. Buried in Europe (2021), a collaboration between animation industry veterans Hardi Volmer and cinematographer
Sierra by Sander Joon.
The premiere of Sierra at the Clermont-Ferrand festival. Producer Aurela Aasa and director Sander Joon are on the left.
A good overview of current Estonian animation can be seen at Finland’s Animatricks Animation Festival, taking place at the end of May
‘Til We Meet Again by Ülo Pikkov.
Urmas Jõemees, premiered internationally at Tampere Film Festival in March 2022. A film which claims that “most Europeans are already dead”, walks us through numerous European graveyards, creating patterns with gravestones and sculptures carefully selected to accompany the dead. Volmer and Jõemees, who have worked on a wide range of projects for several decades, have this time moved one step closer to documentary animation. A good overview of current Estonian animation can be seen at Finland’s Animatricks Animation Festival, taking place at the end of May. Eight animated films from Estonia are travelling there. Among them is Jonas Taul’s black & white puppet film debut A Most Exquisite Man (2021), which previously received the Grand Prix at Fredrikstad Animation Festival, and Best International Film award at Stop Motion Our Fest. Also, two children’s animations – The Turnip (2021) by Piret Sigus and Silja Saarepuu, and Troublemaker Tommy (2021) by Rao and Pauline Heidmets - are invited and will screen in the programme for kids aged 7–11. EF
A Most Exquisite Man by Jonas Taul.
EVENT The team from the Japanese film Make the Devil Laugh pose on the Black Carpet. German director Andreas Kleinert celebrates winning PÖFF’s grand prix.
Hear! The PÖFF Wolves Howl Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF in its native Estonian) is gearing up for its 26th edition this November 11–27. The PÖFF team, along with the entire film world, hoped for a return to normality, after two unpredictable years of restrictions. Instead, events in Ukraine have brought a new mood to the year’s industry outlook. Though geographically far removed from the war in Ukraine, PÖFF and Estonia feel a strong affiliation and unwavering solidarity with the people of Ukraine. By William Smith Photos by Erlend Štaub, Catalina Portillo and Kristel Belinets
he festival is focusing its efforts on supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian filmmakers in these difficult times. Russian and Belarusian state-supported films and projects will not be eligible for this year’s editions. To support Ukrainian films whose production has
been disrupted, the 2nd edition of Tallinn Black Nights Goes to Cannes will feature exclusively Ukrainian works-in-progress projects and a Ukrainian Features Preview programme featuring Ukrainian films ready to release will be hosted in collaboration with the Marché du Film. Both activities are part of a wider
Ukraine in Focus programme, scheduled for 21st and 22nd of May. Closer to home, the PÖFF Web Cinema, presented on Elisa Stage, is screening Ukrainian films to audiences in Estonia in exchange for donations to Ukrainian causes. November’s festival will run as normal, but with a particular focus on celebrating the bravery of all the rebels and heroes who stand up to oppression and aggression. In times like these, more than ever, we must remember that culture has always been the thriving force to keep a country and people going, spreading joy and beauty but also documenting the reality of what is happening. Tiina Lokk, Festival Director of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, commented: “It’s our duty as a festival and as individuals to not remain silent. It’s time to raise our voices together, defending freedom of artistic expression and fighting hard against the propaganda of repressive regimes.” Submissions are open for 26th of PÖFF, including the main festival competition programmes (Official Selection, First Feature, Baltic Competition and Rebels With A Cause), as well as Just Film (the children’s and youth film sub-festival) and the BAFTA, EFA and Oscar-qualifying PÖFF Shorts. This year will also see the introduction of series competition, organised together with Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event’s TV
PÖFF guests joining our morning winter swimming challenge.
gramme of I@T&BE, is also changing with the times, launching a competition for series, after initiating a Co-Financing Market in 2021. New series from around the world will be screened online and onsite, with prizes awarded to best projects by a jury of international experts. Submissions for the TV Beats Co-Financing Market and TV Beats competition programme are also open now. For more information, visit industry.poff.ee. Talent programmes under the Discovery Campus umbrella continue to adapt, reaching new target groups. Young Tallinn, a development programme for young critics will continue with fresh new media partners, after relaunching in 2021. Future to Film, incorporating the Script Pool scriptwriting competition, also continues for its second edition. Triin Tramberg, the Head of Discovery Campus, commented that this year’s second official year under the new brand would “continue building on the success of our well-regarded talent programmes such as Music Meets Film, Black Nights Stars and Black Room, while also introducing entirely new audiences to rewarding career paths in the film industry”. These new programmes have been in huge demand, with oversubscribed hybrid courses ranging from an introduction to film production to location scouting. EF Baltasar Kormakur, from Iceland, via Hollywood, was a headline speaker at Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event. PÖFF closing ceremony: Tiina Lokk and DDA founder Dennis Davidson in action.
Beats strand. The regular deadline for film submissions is August 30th via FilmFreeway. PÖFF announced at its 25th closing ceremony that Brazil would be in the spotlight for 2022. This year’s Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event (I@T&BE) continues as a hybrid event. Baltic Event, the event’s headline feature co-production market, opens submissions early this year, with the aim of offering more tailored support and opportunities for participants. Marge Liiske, Managing Director of I@T&BE commented: “The last years have seen their share of challenges, but they have also taught our industry how to be more agile.” TV Beats, the drama-series-focused sub-proESTONIAN FILM
Passion and D Deserted (director Kadri Kõusaar, 2021) is one of those domestic full-length feature films that reached cinema distribution after the war started in Ukraine in February 2022. The film allows the audience to escape to a more beautiful world than today, and at the same time the medium of film makes it possible to forward a wider message, or a nobler objective.
he film, set in the Sinai Desert, is a love story with a political background, in an imperceptibly far and exotic Middle East; where there is tension between Zionists and Islamists, as well as European and Arabic worldviews. The events in the film bring the viewer back to the comparatively “peaceful” prewar era, when European countries were troubled by refugees arriving from Northern Africa. Newsfeeds featuring Yemen, Jor-
Ink Big! The critics have done their job
dan or Syria. Yet Kõusaar’s film is not political – the PK machine gun and photo camera are but attributes that also bear a symbolic personal meaning while being opposed to each other. Swedish photographer Ingrid (Frida Westerdahl) is taken hostage by extremist Islamists while photographing daily life in the Middle East. She is made to spend her days in a desert hideaway under the surveillance of good-hearted Ali (Ali Suliman). Having exposed problematic scenes in the
FRIDA WESTERDAHL ALI SULIMAN FIRAS TAYBEH MAGNUS KREPPER JESSICA GRABOWSKY
A FILM BY
AET LAIGU, CHARLOTTE MOST & MARIA LARSSON GUERPILLON, MERJA RITOLA & ESSI HAUKKAMAA PRESENT KADRI KÕUSAAR, CINEMATOGRAPHER STEN-JOHAN LILL, ESC, EDITOR MENNI RENVALL, SOUND DESIGNER JOONAS JYRÄLÄ, COSTUME DESIGNER ANU GOULD, MAKE-UP ARTISTS FARAH JADAANE & BILL HAZZAM, 3D ARTIST ROBERT LANDES, COMPOSER BJ NILSEN
WRITER & DIRECTOR
Deserted By Tõnu Karjatse First published in Eesti Ekspress
logues and the rather schematic relationship of the protagonists; instead of a spectacular, Deserted can be viewed as a chamberlike melodrama, about how a relationship grows, and about self-discovery. And yet, the desert won’t become a separate character with its own laws, even if the motto in the beginning of the film states the opposite. In the first place, the desert serves as a setting – a neutral, barren, and monotonous space that would seemingly provide opportunities for creating something new. The characters of both Ingrid and Ali are quite simple, thus the audience can have more or less a clear idea of their actions, and the storyline follows a predictable chain of events. Naturally, it is unknown what the lovers’ future will be when the brutal Islamists return, but finding each other seems to be fate for Ingrid and Ali. In general, the film mainly focuses on Ingrid’s story, and is possibly more relatable for women than for men. In a way, Deserted is a sentimental, soapy film – since it includes intimate ro-
Nordic countries probably won’t perceive the several nuances concerning the Middle Eastern cultural sphere and traditions. Even if Kõusaar gives the viewer hints, the majority of it remains somewhere in the background, similarly to the desert itself. Instead, the viewer is placed in Ingrid’s world – the character played by an extremely fragile Frida Westerdahl. For Ali, a white woman probably means an adventure for him that he can afford, despite being married. And yet, the adventure grows much larger than Ali’s patriotic beliefs. Maybe Kadri Kõusaar is attempting to show the invincible power of love, that will help people survive the most impossible situations? The film director discusses several big themes in Deserted – women’s rights, the inequalty between rich and poor countries, the seemingly endless spiral of violence in the Middle East, and the human suffering hard to understand in the Western world. All these problems are tackled only on the surface, since the film focuses on solving Ingrid’s problems, and there are more than enough to solve. Kõusaar won’t
mance, finding each other, and self-discovery through unexpected difficulties wrapped in exoticism. At the same time, there is also hidden pain, often known by women better than men, as well as the social injustice between genders, deep-rooted through many generations – injustice that arises from a patriarchal religious social order. The film audience in snowbound
leave her heroine alone. But the director won’t tell the audience whether the film has a happy ending, or not. And yet, leaving the romantic adventure aside, there is an unforgettable scene at the beginning, depicting a circumcised girl, eyes filled with terror as she seems to ask: what kind of a world is this that I have been born into? EF
On the Big Screen
Desert world with her camera, the photojournalist’s own world is unexpectedly narrowed down to a prison cell of a few square metres, with a mattress, bedpan, and a tiny window-aperture, where Ingrid can admire the extraordinary desert view. Ingrid’s guard Ali turns out to be more human than expected. Enforced isolation becomes a platform of self-discovery for Ingrid, just as a glimpse of the desert landscape starts to act as a mirror for her soul. Ingrid’s vulnerable fragility brings out a hidden tenderness in Ali, and gang member transforms into a responsible humanist ready to confront injustice. The silent desert with its merciless beauty is the stage that connects Ingrid and Ali, as well what isolates them from the rest of the world. However, the figurative splendour of the sand dunes remains in the shadow of the dia-
The desert functions as the mirror of the soul for the characters. Ali (Ali Suliman) and Ingrid (Frida Westerdahl) find love there, even though it is not meant to last.
Enthusiasm & Energy Tree of Eternal Love, a feature debut by two completely unknown filmmakers, is an unbelievably strong and comprehensive film that despite its low budget has been realized at its best.
outh film Tree of Eternal Love ignores a majority of the conventional logic that has been valid in today’s Estonian film industry. Filmmakers Meel Paliale and Urmet Piiling have not studied at the Baltic Film, Media and Arts School (instead, both of them are students at the Estonian Academy of Arts); they have no more experience of
Ink Big! The critics have done their job
filmmaking than just a few smallscale experiments. And despite that, they have been entirely fearless: for their first large-scale project, Piiling and Paliale chose a fulllength feature film and were supported by producers Rain Rannu and Tõnis Hiielaid from the production company Tallifornia. And here is the result: an astonishingly complete and strong debut film made by two completely unknown
Tree of Eternal Love By Kaspar Viilup First published in Sirp
Tree of Eternal Love can be described as a classical road movie with a touch of dark humour.
filmmakers, that despite its low budget has been realized at its best. Estonian feature film Bad Hair Friday (2012) was made in quite a similar way – when Arun Tamm and Andres Kõpper, both with the background in advertising, poured their love for film into a farcical action comedy. The full-length debut feature by Tamm and Kõpper applied the elements of trash aesthetics used in television films contributing to a frenetic energy; whereas Tree of Eternal Love is clean and polished, every frame has been meticulously formed. And despite the youthful vitality and energy in Tree of Eternal Love, the film is far from what one usually thinks of as a debut film. The film also sends the message that today’s young generation of filmmakers have excellent possibilities and access to professional filming equipment, as well as software. If there is a will, there is a way – what is required is a good idea, clear vision and – surprise, surprise! – a love of film. In this case, a big film crew and huge budget won’t be a priority. A love of film unites both Tamm and Kõpper as well as Piiling and Paliale – they all can be called great film
It will take less than ten minutes to recognize the director’s love towards Wes Anderson’s artwork.
fans, or if you like, film nerds. The young filmmakers won’t even try to hide it in their films, quite the opposite – they generously share various allusions to their favourite films and authors, while shamelessly borrowing elements and redefining these in favour of their own artwork. Clearly, this method might make more cynical viewers angry, but for a young filmmaker this is an excellent starting point to develop a first film project. In a way, this is what distinguishes a film fan from a filmmaker. Personally, I wouldn’t have the courage to poke into the film heritage of my all-time favourites in order to steal elements for my own film. But it makes me very happy to realize that there are people who are doing it! It will take less than ten minutes to recognize Piiling and Paliale’s love towards Wes Anderson’s artwork. Considering the fact that Anderson is one of the most unique filmmakers with an identifi-
able style, and whose visual tricks are in a way parodically excessive, Piilin and Paliale could have easily failed in their task; however, the filmmakers have reduced every unnecessary element in Tree of Eternal Love. What remains is the raw material: the key scenes of the film have been constructed with the symmetric compositions characteristic of Wes Anderson’s films. Also, the young filmmakers have chosen an experimental approach towards colouring – everything is so bright and vivid as if covered by some kitschy Instagram filter. A classical road movie (in a good sense) is being unrolled, with quite a silly motive – the characters have to chop down a tree that has the names of the protagonist and his ex-girlfriend carved into the trunk. Such degree of absurd definitely adds value to a good road movie. The journey of two good friends leading to that tree is nothing but smooth: the tires of their car are stolen, their gas runs out, and so on. And yet, the storytelling
won’t leave an exaggerated feeling; instead, the overall atmosphere is pleasantly easy going, light, and perhaps even with the touch of indifference. Paliale and Piiling seem not to take their film too seriously, letting the film flow by itself, giving the viewer the opportunity to feel good, sit back, and travel along. Unpretentiousness is certainly one the strongest characteristics of Tree of Eternal Love and this disarms both the audience and film critics. How can one criticize a feel-good film after all? Although, even good-humour as a concept may quickly exhaust the viewer, and can gradually make a film hollow, but here the final result is absolutely balanced – a dream-like journey full of nostalgia. The protagonists’ careless adventure evokes long-gone memories of childhood summers – when one could carelessly spend the long days full of play and fun without thinking of school or work. Even if there might be the impression that Paliale and Piiling intended to copy Hollywood-like motifs with their debut feature, Tree of Eternal Love is a pure Estonian film in its essence. In a way, the film pays homage to Estonian summer, trying to record the sun, the warm summer breeze and then offering a piece of it to every viewer. The reality of Estonian regional life is reflected with light hearted humour: rural people are depicted as simple-minded, innocent simpletons. Yet, laughing at them is not seen as something malicious but rather as
Tree of Eternal Love is an astonishingly complete and strong debut film made by Meel Paliale and Urmet Piiling.
something warm and supporting, whereas the filmmakers have made their conscious choice to avoid associations with real life. Tree of Eternal Love takes place in an abstract time and space, that could also be the present day, but nothing refers to it in the film. It is a pleasure to perceive that Tree of Eternal Love attempts to expand the perspectives of Estonian film, and we will (or perhaps we already have?) reach closer to the authentic film culture where at one end there is arthouse cinema, and at the other end popular comedies – and in-between there is space for millions of other smaller niche genres. The debut film by Piiling and Paliale can be categorized as a youth film – a category that is rather uncommon in Estonia; however, the categorization is not that accurate. It is more like a film from young people addressed to young audiences. And the purpose is not necessarily to remain within the borders of a certain genre but to be youthfully adventurous, energetic, ingenuous, and even a bit naive. Unfortunately, we have not too many such full-length feature films. Would young people want to watch this kind of a film? Well, I hope so, even if Piiling and Paliale’s nerdy love of film might become too much for some. Even if the film will be unnoticed by wider audiences – it is possible that cinemagoers won’t pay to see a film by unknown filmmakers, especially during a time when the field of film
has suffered from the impacts of Coronavirus – then at least for rising filmmakers, Tree of Eternal Love should definitely be an encouraging proof that even young professionals are able to make good films in Estonia. If there is at least one person who gets the same idea while watching Tree of Eternal Love, and finds the strength to start a new film, then the debut by Piiling and Paliale has definitely succeeded. Those ready to give the film a chance, will definitely leave the cinema hall in a good mood. It is clear that the Estonian actors, even those involved with episodic roles in Tree of Eternal Love, have fully enjoyed their odd, yet good-hearted, characters. The joy of doing in the film is almost contagious, and makes the audience forgive both a few errors of logic, and at times the uneven tempo. Undoubtedly, Tree of Eternal Love is one of the strongest domestic debut features, and I am already anticipating with excitement the filmmakers’ next move. It also seems that Tallifornia is about to find its right place: whereas with the film American Summer it was unclear which direction the production company was moving in, then feature films Kratt and Tree of Eternal Love prove that it is possible to make a popular film for larger audiences in Estonia – a film that won’t underestimate the viewer, but also have courage to be provocative as well as experiment with boundaries. EF