Tiina Lokk • Director of the Black Nights Film Festival
by Domenico La Porta
- Cineuropa met with Tiina Lokk, the director of the Black Nights Film Festival, to talk about what still needs to be done to consolidate the event's place on the A-list festival circuit
Few festival directors can pride themselves on combining the Viking strength of the Scandinavians, the modernist youth of Estonia and the liberalist spirit of a nation which is connected to many worlds but abides by none. Tiina Lokk brings these qualities together in the Black Nights Film Festival, a gathering shaped in her image. Cineuropa caught up with her to take stock of how far the festival has come and what still remains to be done to consolidate its place on the A-list festival circuit.
Cineuropa: Can you talk to us about how you’re working on the identity of the Festival to set it apart from the others on the list of 15 A-list festivals?
Tiina Lokk: Our identity is older than the A-list, but we work hard to maintain it by making sure that we’re constantly moving forwards in one direction without forgetting our past. The way we see the Festival may differ from the way others see it, but I think our biggest asset has always been our openness to film from all over the world. Of course, we have close links with Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and Europe, but there’s no dominance of national films like there is at festivals like Venice which has a strong Italian identity, or Cannes which does the same for France. This year we’re working with 79 different countries on our selection. Our competition is clearly an international affair with no one dominant nation. That is the strong point of the festival.
Why did you decide to set up a separate competition for debut films?
We did this to make our selection fairer. Taking risks is something associated with A-list festivals which aspire to discovering new talent. That is what this competition aims to do, and puts all the participants on an equal footing. I teach at the University of Tallinn and I know just how unique debut films are. Directors are often full of delusions and innocence when they make their first films. This is a fleeting frame of mind that we should handle with care and disappears with second films. Debut pieces are freer. They aren’t dependant on a specific budget, on market demand or mundane contingencies. These films have universal appeal and that’s why this is no longer a regional competition as it was in the past. We’ve opened it up to the entire world.
Is it hard to secure premieres in a competitive circuit of festivals that is getting stronger and stronger?
It’s a struggle. I didn’t think anyone would reserve their film for Tallinn, but I was pleasantly surprised this year to see certain producers submitting their films to us with a clear strategic vision of what we represented for them. But in most cases, it’s up to my team and I to convince them that our platform would be a good launch pad for the film. Karlovy Vary and Locarno have been engaged in this struggle for years, and they still are today even though they’re now more well established. At Cannes, they told me I was mad to hope for a competition full of good-quality premieres bearing in mind the competition on the currentcircuit. We were scared, but I was relieved to see that this competition is not unfair and just as I have recommended other more appropriate festivals to certain producers for their films, other festivals do the same and recommend Tallinn. Our Festival falls between the American Film Market (AFM), which is very expensive, and the Berlinale, which is very selective. These are also two big markets which allow us to act as an interim event which is more laid back from an industry point of view, which also allows us to end the year on a high with audiences that always leave happy.
How can you tell that the festival is doing well?
There are three ways we can tell. Firstly, the box office. If audiences don’t come to see the films being shown in competition, it’s a failure. Audiences are always the biggest indicator of success. Secondly, we have a professional responsibility towards the films we screen and the industry to make suitable matches. Getting sellers and potential partners to Tallinn is the second priority, for which we have to set ourselves realistic targets. Last year, we hosted five big selling agents and a handful of Baltic distributors. This year, we have ten times as many, which is the second sign we’re doing well. The third way we can tell is by the presence of the international press. It’s hard to squeeze Tallinn into the busy schedules of journalists, but their first experience seems to have inspired them and they want to come back. This is also the case for Cineuropa, which we’re particularly pleased about.
This year you were responsible for organising the European Film Forum. Do you not risk growing too quickly and losing control by hosting large-scale events that are hard to manage?
I didn’t approach the European Commission, they chose Tallinn. The European Film Forum is a complicated machine which runs at its own pace and follows a very different protocol to our own. What I liked, is that its representatives came to see us last year and liked our hybrid way of organising panel discussions, with a balance between dialogue, different speakers and a mix of different backgrounds. They thought our methods were particularly well suited to the times we live in. That’s why, unlike the conferences they organised at San Sebastián and Cannes, they gave us free rein to organise our panels as we liked for the European Film Forum.We were given the freedom of choosing the topics and speakers in conjunction with the European Commission and nothing was imposed on us. This trust allowed us to put together a cycle of very interesting conferences. Unfortunately, due to lengthy administrative procedures, we were unable to book all the speakers we wanted, but the agenda was already full by the time we received the official invitation. It’s very frustrating, but it’s taught us a lot and we have maintained our freedom through everything. We’re still committed liberals and do not impose our views on others. We adapt and allow everyone to express themselves, be it at the Festival or at the conferences for professionals.
(Translated from French)