Edith Sepp • CEO, Estonian Film Institute
“Platforms are like what US-based studios used to be”
- The CEO of Estonia’s national film agency answered some questions about the body’s schemes and activities, and shared her takes on Film i Väst’s recent study on public funding
Cineuropa sat down with Edith Sepp, CEO of the Estonian Film Institute (EFI), to discuss how the country’s public funding has changed over the last two years, the opportunities it offers to local and foreign filmmakers and her opinions on the new study on public financing published by Film i Väst last week, titled Public Film Funding at a Crossroads (see the news). In the coming weeks, Cineuropa will publish a series of interviews with experts to investigate and discuss the role of European public funding to engage with the debate opened by Film i Väst’s research.
Cineuropa: How has the funding in place with the institute changed during the pandemic? Were any of the funding schemes restructured or scrapped?
Edith Sepp: During the pandemic, we did focus on creators in Estonia and we did not change the funding system. Quite the opposite. We supported filmmakers with mitigating measures and we got substantial, additional funding for the sector. However, we do feel we need to speak about creators after the pandemic. Since Estonia is holding the presidency for the European Audiovisual Observatory in 2022, we are organising a hybrid conference in June on the theme of how the film industry has to keep creators at the centre of attention. Another example of our activities during the pandemic is our proposal to the Government to restart negotiations on using Article 13 in the AVMSD, in order to broaden support for local filmmakers in the long run. In the past, the Government refused to examine the opportunities the directive offered for film, but today – after these market changes - the sector’s arguments are being heard. In parallel to our fight for fair funding for film production, the film sector got support from the Parliament to build a new sound stage in Estonia and the film sector’s infrastructure was put on the list of nationally important objects, meaning the state will be partnering with it. The cost of the studio is approximately €17 million and it is a truly remarkable break-through for the industry, and that also happened during the pandemic. Last but not least, the EFI, together with the Film Archive, has started to build an online platform for all Estonian heritage films, especially aimed at schools. This platform will give new audiences access to archive films together with recent releases. The idea to build a platform came from the need for film literacy in Estonia, so there will be an integrated special touch for film education on the platform.
What are the main opportunities in place for feature film production?
Estonia’s main focus is on national films – features, documentaries and animation films – but we also support high-end TV-series development and minority co-productions. Additionally, we have a cash-rebate system for foreign production companies.
What types of shoots do you usually attract in Estonia? Which ones do you struggle to attract and why?
At the moment we do not struggle to attract any shoots. As many other countries, we struggle with crews and look very closely that the cash-rebate is balanced with national films. We can't make one system more important – the cash-rebate – over the other – our national cinema.
Film i Väst recently published a much-debated study on public funding. One of the study insights recommends bodies to choose between implementing a film-funding policy or an audiovisual-funding policy. Where does the EFI stand on this?
In my humble opinion, its research is not really groundbreaking. For example, within EFAD, we do have discussions on changing markets and how funds react – or even act – on changes all the time. The EFI, as a small film fund, is very flexible and sees more opportunities with the new digital world, where platforms play an important role rather than endanger the fund. We listen to filmmakers and serve them. In Estonia, we look at the digital culture as a whole and at film as part of this culture. Film funding is not less important than before, but I don't see how film can ignore what is happening in the audiovisual field and not update the policies. Film has always been part of art but also of technology. If technology develops, so does film.
Another hot topic covered by the study concerns the dilemma whether “to sleep” - or not to - “with the enemy,” namely the US-based streaming giants. The report suggests public bodies refrain from establishing long-term collaborations and focus on working together on one-off, high-quality projects. What’s your take?
Platforms are like what US-based studios used to be. There is nothing new under the sun. Platforms must be part of the national production if they want to show their content to local audiences in national states. Otherwise, their content will be too flat and not diverse enough. There is no point underestimating the audience and its hunger for very diverse content. All is connected and based on cooperation in this modern networked-up world. However, at the EFI, it all depends on the project. The EFI always evaluates projects and not companies, meaning we do not make a decision to have a long-term relationship with anyone. All depends on how good the story is, including with US-streaming giants, and how it relates to Estonia and its local audience.
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