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HAAPSALU 2019

Helmut Jänes • Director, Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival

“Don’t be afraid of your inner fears; don’t be afraid to laugh at them”

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- Cineuropa talked to Helmut Jänes about his first edition as the director of the Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival, the biggest genre festival in the Baltics

Helmut Jänes  • Director, Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival

The Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival, the biggest genre film gathering in the Baltics, brought its 14th edition to a close with Oskar Lehemaa’s short film Bad Hair being chosen as the recipient of the prestigious Méliès d’Argent Award. Lifetime Achievement Awards were picked up by Estonian set decorator Priit Vaher and Russian animation director Vladimir Tarasov, while the varied programme saw screenings of the likes of the Swedish disaster flick The UnthinkableLinus de Paoli’s A Young Man with High Potential, Spain’s House of Sweat and Tears and even The Matrix, celebrated with an anniversary screening. We spoke to Helmut Jänes about his first edition at the helm of the festival, which this year unspooled from 25-28 April.

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Cineuropa: There is an ongoing discussion about the state of Estonian genre cinema, but with the screening of the no-budget Reich of the Dead and Bad Hair, also chosen as Best Short Film, something seems to be happening. What’s your take on it?
Helmut Jänes: 
I think so, too, even though as far as Estonian cinema is concerned, we are still a long way away from the heights of the past decade and such titles as Autumn Ball by Veiko Õunpuu or The Class. That was the golden age of Estonian film, and also of genre cinema. Right now, we really don’t have this kind of movie, but Bad Hair, which opened this year’s edition, is our first body-horror short. Really – it’s the first! Many young film directors are making horror movies, and Urmas Eero Liiv is currently preparing Kiirtee põrgusse [“Highway to Hell”]. Set to premiere in the autumn, it will be our first full-length horror feature. So who knows? This year might prove incredibly important for Estonian genre movies. 

There is a close-knit community that has formed around the festival. Are you embracing it by having specially curated events just “for freaks”? Like “The Zombie Trash Movie Marathon” with its “designated cocktail breaks”?
This is something that says a lot about me personally – it’s my taste, too! There is a lot of fun to be had in trying to decide which film would be perfect for “freaks” and which for the less hardcore audience. For example, Japan’s Violence Voyager is an excellent movie for freaks because there is absolutely nothing normal or traditional about it. It’s so peculiar and, frankly, just so much fun.

Fun is clearly a priority at Haapsalu – on the very first day, you were wearing a leather coat and sunglasses à la The Matrix, celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Our festival slogan is “Don’t be afraid!”, which means don’t be afraid of your inner fears; don’t be afraid to laugh at them. It’s actually my own take on how we should watch horror movies today, because they are not just about fear or pain. First and foremost, they need to be good and allow for this mixture of different genres, even black comedy, which has become a very important component of many important new titles like Jordan Peele’s Get Out or Us, for example, all the while managing to perfectly capture today’s madness.

This mixture you mentioned is reflected well in the work of some of your guests – especially Russian animation director Vladimir Tarasov, who also gets a nod via the poster for this year’s edition.
I first saw his films as a child. They bring back some very nostalgic memories, but not just that: they are some of my favourite movies from the 1980s. Like Contact or The Return, which included the famous line: “Wake up, cosmonaut!” I still remember that my classmates and I would yell this out to each other if just one of us happened to fall asleep [laughs]. They just had such a big impact on all of us. Vladimir is 80 years old now, but we were very happy to welcome him to the festival and see how today’s young people would react to his movies.

Is it important for you to make sure that the Haapsalu audience gets a chance to discover older movies as well? Not just new titles, fresh from some of the biggest festivals in the world?
Restoring and discovering old films is one of our main goals at this festival. It’s also because it’s something very close to my heart – films from the 1970s or 1980s are still among my absolute favourites. But in terms of our final selection, it’s really all about teamwork. When it comes to Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di, Koko-da, for example, it’s one of the favourites of my good colleague [programme consultant and previous festival director] Maria Reinup, but I prefer Alejandro Fadel’s Murder Me, Monster, which is very slow but also so interesting and atmospheric. There is a bit of David Lynch in there somewhere. Or Predator!

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