Estonia – a small country with big diversity under the spotlight at Krakow
by Laurence Boyce
- Industry players from Estonia came together at the 58th Krakow Film Festival to talk more about what the country has to offer the industry
The 58th Krakow Film Festival’s Focus on Estonia has seen the festival screen some of the very best documentaries and animations from the country to enthusiastic festival audiences. Coming at a time when Estonia is celebrating its 100th anniversary, the focus has allowed the Baltic state to showcase a rich and diverse film culture, even within a country with a population of only 1.3 million. This was elaborated on in the festival’s Industry Focus on Estonia, comprising two panel discussions that brought together some of the key players in the Estonian industry to provide an overview of film production and culture in the country.
Filipp Kruusvall, from DocPoint Tallinn, began the event by noting how receptive the country is to the documentary form and pointing out how many popular documentary festivals there are in Estonia – amongst them the Pärnu International Documentary and Anthropology Film Festival, the Matsalu Nature Film Festival and DocPoint itself – and how they give great visibility to the form, with Pärnu broadcasting some of its programme on national television. This was elaborated on by Riho Västrik, a filmmaker and professor at the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School, who mentioned that almost every national documentary will get a domestic theatrical release, with some gaining impressive audience figures of 5,000 or more.
Of course, while documentary is an integral part of the Estonian film industry, animation is also one of its most famous exports, and on hand was Priit Pärn, a legendary Estonian animator and a former recipient of the KFF’s highest honour, the Dragon of Dragons. He talked not only about his history and work as an animator, but also about his work as a professor on the animation course at the Estonian Academy of Art and mentioned how, with a relatively small number of students from across the world, the course has become one of the most highly respected in the world. Animator Priit Tender, a former Pärn student himself, chatted about the Black Nights Film Festival, which has gone from a Nordic film week to an A-list film festival in 21 years, and his role as head of animation programming for PÖFF Shorts, the short-film element of the festival.
The next conference shifted its focus to production, with Kaarel Kuurmaa from the Estonian Film Institute giving an overview of the co-production opportunities and tax rebates available in the country, alongside Karlo Funk from national broadcaster ERR, who talked about the relatively large number of slots available for documentaries on the channel. Estonian producer Marianna Kaat gave an account of her experiences so far as she has been working on the Estonian-Polish co-production The Last Relic (see the news).
During the sessions, it became apparent that Estonia’s small size was both a blessing and a curse. While there was much praise for the efficiency and lack of bureaucracy, as well as the willingness to take risks and present a film slate that is diverse, it was also acknowledged that the amount of money available would always be relatively small.
While there are certain elements that define Estonian cinema (surreal and absurdist humour and a love of nature amongst them), according to Pärn, “The things we have in common are that we have nothing in common.” This is a compliment to a country with a relatively small audiovisual output but one that can still present a wide range of diverse films to both an enthusiastic local audience and an appreciative international one.
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