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Country Focus: Estonia

Local industry on slow road to recovery

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Local industry on slow road to recovery

- After two years of cutbacks in public funding that brought film production to a near standstill last year, 2011 looks rosier for Estonian cinema. Eight films will hit local screens (against four in 2010), including the animated Lotte and the Moonstone Secret and Rainer Sarnet’s The Idiot. Meanwhile, Estonia’s new Euro membership should boost European co-productions such as Ilmar Raag’s One More Croissant (see news), set to start filming next month.

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“Our film budget for 2011 will not increase, but at least it won’t be cut anymore!” said Karlo Funk, head of Production and Development at the Estonian Film Foundation (EFF) at the last Berlinale, where four Estonian films screened at the market.

Despite the global economic crisis that has pushed the total budget for film down from €6.5m in 2008 to the current €5.5m, the EFF has been able to keep the same number of films rolling each year (around 4-5 feature films plus documentaries, shorts and animated films). But average budgets remain low at €470,000, making it hard for Estonian films to attract foreign co-producers. Nevertheless, the country’s entrance in the Eurozone should stabilize the market and ease financial transactions with European partners, and hopefully, a few local films should hit the festival circuit.

A Friend of Mine [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which opened domestically in January, is the feature debut of Mart Kivastik, scriptwriter of Taarka [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
. The tale of friendship starring some of Estonian’s top actors – Aarne Üksküla, Alekander Eelmaa and Rita Raave – was produced by Exit Film’s Anneli Ahven, Producer on the Move at Cannes 2010.

Letters to Angels, a drama about a man who returns home after having spent time in an Afghani jail, is directed by Sulev Keedus, nominated for a Rotterdam Tiger Award in 2003 for Somnambulance. The low-budget film produced by F-Seitse in co-production with Finland’s Frame Productions was released on January 27.

Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which opened on February 23, is a new family film by writer-director-producer Katrin Laur (Ruudi). The main character is eight-year-old Lucia, who lives a “Pippi Longstocking-style life” in a small Estonian town. Rat Trap by actor-director Andres Puustusmaa is a socio-critical action drama based on the true story of a politician who took justice into his own hands. The Triamen Film production was partly financed by private investors.

Set for a March release is Farts and Fury, a black comedy by Andres Maimik and Rain Tolk, the directing duo behind 186 Kilometres [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, the third biggest Estonian blockbuster of all time. Hella W [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
is a Finnish biopic by Juha Wuolijoki, co-produced by Amrion Film.

The Idiot is Rainer Sarnet’s adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel and is produced by Homeless Bob Production (The Temptation of St. Tony [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
). Currently in the editing stage, the film could find a slot at Cannes.

The animation film Lotte and the Moonstone Secret, the follow-up to the 2006 hit Lotte in Gadgetville [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, will also be ready in May. Directed by Heiki Ernits and Janno Põldma, the film is produced by Eesti Joonisfilm in co-production with Latvia’s Rija Films.

Among the many interesting documentaries set to open in 2011 is Arko Okk’s The Man Who Lived in 3D Time, on former Estonian president Lennart Meri.

A handful of new feature films will go into production this year, such as One More Croissant by Ilmar Raag (The Class [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
), a €2.4m film produced in France by TS Productions, in co-production with Amrion Film and Belgium’s La Parti Production. The story of two elderly women from opposite social backgrounds who learn how to overcome their initial mistrust and antipathy stars Jeanne Moreau and Laine Mägi

Jaak Kilmi, director of the successful documentary Disco and Atomic War [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, will start a new documentary film.

Looking ahead, Funk feels making Edith Sepp responsible for the country’s cinema industry is a positive step. Sepp is a former lawyer with international experience at Estonia’s Ministry of Culture. “We need a proper legal framework, a clear plan of action for reforms and the introduction of regional tax incentives,” notes Funk.

EFF head Marge Liiske is betting on digital technology: “One of our future goals will be to start systematic digitization of national screens. Estonian audiences would go out much more to local cinemas if they had access to Estonian films,” she says. In the meantime, Estonian film heritage and culture is celebrated throughout the year with Tallinn as European Capital of Culture.

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