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Photo by: Tõde ja õigus

Photo by: Ahto Sooaru / PÖFF

By Noora Karppi  •  14.11.2019

Moving pictures have captivated people since the Lumière brothers demonstrated the cinematograph in Paris in 1895. There's something magical about movies that can transport you to another time and place. And there's no better time to have yourself transported to someplace nice and warm than the black nights of late autumn.

Luckily, and just in time, the long-awaited Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival is back in town with hundreds of movies for you to watch. November is the best time to visit Tallinn for screen junkies and people who just enjoy a good quality movie or a visit to a cosy cinema.

To prepare you for the upcoming black nights, we will introduce you to Estonian films as well as the Black Nights Film Festival and give out some professional recommendations.

Timeline of Estonian movies

The first moving pictures were shown in Tallinn already in 1896. The first screenings took place in the heart of the Old Town, in the same building where the Estonian History Museum resides today.

Sixteen years later, in 1912, Johannes Pääsuke screned the first Estonian chronicles and documentaries. At the beginning of the 1920s, the first full-length feature films came out. Estonian film industry grew slowly and steadily until the Second World War. The war ended with the Soviet occupation that brought censorship and social control into Estonian filmmaking.

The 1960s was the golden era of Estonian movies. Some of the classics of Estonian cinema were produced, such as MadnessThe Last RelicThe Spring and Men Don’t Cry. Most of the films were based on Estonian literature. There were no problems with funding and the audience was bigger than ever before.

Põgene, vaba laps

Slowly a new generation took the stage. In the 1970s and 1980s, new actors and directors created some of the most iconic movies in Estonia. The most well-known movies of these two decades include Dead Mountaineer’s HotelNipernaadi and Well, Come On, Smile.

The Dead Mountaineer's Hotel

The restoration of independence in 1991 freed the movie industry from censorship but created an issue of financing. It took a good decade for the Estonian film industry to be able to stand on its two feet again.

Contemporary Estonian film industry is versatile and professional. From children’s movies and animation (Secret Society of SouptownLotte from Gadgetville) to local stories and Oscar candidates (Autumn BallMushrooming1944The FencerIn the CrosswindTangerines) Estonian movies engage public and critics.

The Secret Society of Souptown

Mushrooming

In the Crosswind

Tangerines

For a small nation, Estonia has taken the movie game up a notch. High-tech cinemas, the contemporary film museum and university-level film arts education are just a few factors showing the dedication Estonians have for the film industry.

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

The very first Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) took place in 1997. It has since grown to become one of the most important film festivals in Northern Europe, bringing together fans and professionals to enjoy the festival spirit and good movies.

In 2019, the 23nd Black Nights Film Festival will take place from 15 November to 1 December. More than 250 features and 300 shorts and animations will be screened at the festival. 

Tallinn shares the honour with other great film cities, such as Berlin, Cannes and Venice, to have a film festival with International Competitive Feature Film Program. Instead of a golden bear or a lion, the winner of the main prize will get to take home the Golden Wolf (a very appropriate symbol for the black nights).


Altogether, the Black Nights Film Festival has four competitive programs (Official Selection Competition, First Feature Competition, Baltic Film Competition and Rebels with a Cause Competition) and various non-competitive ones. 

Each year, two popular sub-festivals take place alongside of the main festival: Just Film presents feature films for youth and children, and PÖFF Shorts is dedicated to short films and animations.

For movie professionals, the audiovisual industry summit Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event brings together over 700 delegates from all over the world to network and take part of the conference. 

Watch these Estonian movies

If you google Estonian movies, you will find plenty of lists recommending new and old classics such as TangerinesAutumn BallThe SpringThe Last Relic etc. 

2019 brought us Truth and Justice (Tõde ja õigus), a movie adaptation of a five-part novel (1926-1933) of the same name by Estonian author, A. H. Tammsaare. In a short period, the movie broke the local box office record previously held by James Cameron's Avatar. Truth and Justice will also represent Estonia at the 2020 Oscars in the international feature film category. 

Truth and Justice

In 2018, to get a more personal point of view for the matter, we asked Estonian film critic and translator, Mart Rummo, which Estonian movies he regards as the best.

Mart has been translating movies into Estonian for over two decades and has also translated for Black Nights Film Festival. He is a member of the Association of Estonian Film Journalists.

Here are his personal recommendations to you.

Feature films:

A silent film about the Estonian War of Independence which took place in 1918-1920. The Young Eagles is the first ever Estonian war movie. A bit clumsy and naive in patriotism, but very glorious and enjoyable.


A beautiful Soviet-comedy about Tallinn, innocent youth and courageous athletes.

It's hard to find another female character in Estonian movies, so powerful, primal and humane as Margarita Terekhova in this drama movie.

Estonian director Ilmar Raag wished to make the worst movie of all times, but he failed. Killing Tartu is a charming crazy comedy, a strange film that has its place in the Estonian film history.

The Highway Crossing is almost like a psychological horror movie, but it's too witty. The movie is easy, candid and moving, like the music of the playwright Jaan Tätte, who also plays one of the main characters.

What did young people do in a summer camp in 1986? They rebelled, drank and fell in love. Their youthful enthusiasm is a joy to watch.

Revolution of Pigs

Harshly foul and shameless comedy, tells the story of Valdis, who gets hit in the head and loses all interest in hamburgers, tuning cars and beating up people. But it's much more than just a comedy, The beauty of Alien is the sadness beneath the foulness and longing for something beautiful.

Kinnunen, 2007
An Estonian and a Finn playfully mock each other, as neighbours do, but secretly they also love each other. Director Andri Luup is not afraid to show this tender and clumsy love.

Almost as in the spirit of “Alien”, director Triin Ruumet looks back at the small town life in the 1990s. She does it with a ruthless grin, but also with a thirst for life and sad tenderness.

The Days that Confused

Somewhat unconventional psychological thriller among Estonian films, which almost reminds the style of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke. Both charming and terrifying at the same time.

Pretenders

Documentaries:

Knowing that documentaries never reflect only one and complete truth, Andres Sööt adds timeless text and music to his chronicles, creating a unique distancing effect and emphasizing that everything is relative.

One could accuse Andres Maimik and Jaak Kilm, the ruthless smirks, of misusing the trust of people they follow on this documentary. But laughter scatters the irritation and every viewer can find something amusing in themselves.

Animations:

Annoyingly educative and reprimanding story turns in to a farce thanks to its grotesque form.

A Romper

Rein Raamat mixes three engravings made by Eduard Viiralt together and makes them alive with music. It creates a new, voluptuous and daunting work of art.

Hell

Estonian cartoonist, Priit Pärn, plays with substance, form and perspective on his fantastic characters. The ten minutes are filled with tens or hundreds of small pictures and the result makes you gasp out of astonishment.

Time Out

A horrible and powerful story about self-actualization and need for recognition.

High Jump

One of the best examples of how to bring great children's literature on the screen.

Learn more about Estonian films