Tallinn Black Nights: A film festival to reckon with in North Europe

Come November and one of the most splendid film festivals takes centre stage in North Europe in which entire city dwellers take part, the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia

NH Photo
NH Photo

Romain Maitra

“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” — Ingmar Bergman

There are international film festivals of household names associated with Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and so on and there are those that escape the attention of our cinéphiles and film critics at best or that are relegated as low priority at worst. There is one film festival, however, which has etched its special position for its selection of films from lesser known regions of the world, for its sole focus of alternative and low-budget films and for its relegating Hollywood to a low priority – although having a keen attention of involving film market to the fore.

Come November and one of the most splendid film festivals takes centre stage in North Europe in which the entire city dwellers take part and celebrate — the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia. Founded by its present director Tiina Lokk in 1997, this film festival, known in Estonian as Pimedate Ööde Filmifestival or, popularly PÖFF, specially focuses on discovering films from countries that are comparatively lesser highlighted on the global film markets, thus mixing them with the festival’s highlights from the global festival circuit – apart from being the only competitive feature film festival in Northern Europe accredited by Paris-based FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations)

NH Photo
NH Photo

Scheduled from November 16 until December 3 this year, and in its 22nd edition, PÖFF would offer a cluster of events: the main festival, sub-festivals for youth and children’s films, short films and animations, fashion and film design show - Black Nights Catwalk and Masterclasses and Music Meets Film with renowned players in the film and music industry—along with an extensive film industry programme, turning Tallinn and Tartu into a buzzing, yet relaxed celebration of film culture that attracted an attendance of more than 80,000 and visited by over 1200 film professionals and press from around the world last year. Running concurrently with PÖFF would be Industry@Tallinn, the meeting point of the international sales and distributors, and the Baltic Event Co-Production Market -- the biggest audiovisual industry meeting in the region.

PÖFF begins today with the World Premier of Awaken as the Opening Film—a US-United Arab Emirates co-production, which has been generating significant buzz in the industry and fan circles due to its remarable making on “an exploration of the Earth and an ode to the Cosmos”. Produced by, among others, Terrence Malick and Godfrey Reggio, and directed by Tom Lowe, this film of epic scale was shot during five years in more than 30 countries, while using several groundbreaking shooting techniques. Awaken composer Joe Trapanese is scheduled to conduct the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Voces Musicales in a live gala event.

Each year the PÖFF chooses a focus country or a region to introduce its cinematic and cultural heritage. This year the festival’s focus is dedicated to the 13 countries that are celebrating their 100th anniversary of freedom as Europe’s map was radically changed at the end of the 1st World War, dissolving empires and creating new small nation states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Estonia. This year PÖFF also celebrates the 100th birth anniversary of the Swedish master director Ingmar Bergman and screens This Can't Happen Here (also know as High Tension, 1950) that has rarely had a permission to be screened before anywhere in the world. Further, Bergaman’s actress and director Liv Ullmann would receive the Lifetime Achievement Award of the festival.

A potential aspect of this edition of PÖFF is its side-festival KINOFF that would be launched this year in Eastern Estonia and directed to Estonia’s Russian audiences. Estonia has a 26% Russian minority and there has been a constant speculation whether Estonia’s eastern border town Narva will be the next Donbass, where Russia will test NATO's resolve. KINOFF would be launched to reach out significantly to the Russian audiences, and indirectly this could be regarded as a cultural step to build closer ties between Estonia and its Russian community that has been, to a considerable extent, neglected culturally due to post-Soviet traumas that the Estonian society still bears. While attending PÖFF in Tallinn, this writer wishes to take a trip to Narva to be at the screenings there as well as to see the city with some great spots like the river Canyon the operates as a border between EU/NATO and Russia, which is naturally beautiful while generating a great sense of political tension when the beholder is aware of the background.

Lastly, eight Indian films are joining PÖFF this year under different sections, most of them as European or international premiers. Bhonsle (directed by Devashish Makhija), Kadakh (by Rajat Kapoor), Manmarziyaan (by Anurag Kashyap), Hichki (by Siddharth Malhotra), Tumbbad (by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad with the directorial participation of Anand Gandhi of Ship of Theseus fame), Hamid (by Aijaz Khan), Hello Arsi (by Sambit Mohanti, who succumbed to an untimely death last year) and Ghode ko jalebi khilane le ja riya hoon (by Anamika Haksar). Haksar was jubilant when I got in touch with her: “We are thrilled to be chosen for the Black Nights which is one of the most cutting edge festivals in Northern Europe and it truly supports experimentation in cinema. My film has been selected in the very exciting category of ‘Rebels with a Cause’ where the audience are the judges in the International Competition. We eagerly look forward to our interactions with the Estonian audiences.”

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