Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival Brings Estonia and Baltic Nations Into the Spotlight

If there’s anything to be learned from the massive, industry-shaping disruptions of recent years — from the unprecedented challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to the lingering fallout from the war in Ukraine — it’s that “the role of the big festivals in the industry ecosystem is crucial,” according to Tiina Lokk, director of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

“When festivals were canceled or changed their dates due to COVID, the cycle of film releases went down the drain, which had a direct impact on cinemas and the whole business model,” Lokk tells Variety. While streaming platforms and Zoom meetings offered a “temporary remedy,” she adds, “it was not a real substitute for live interaction, contacts in a business climate.”

Last year, the Estonian fest drew a record 2,000 industry guests, highlighting the way such events continue to play a crucial part in bringing people together. As Tallinn prepares to host its 27th edition, which takes place Nov. 3-19, festival organizers are expanding activities with a diverse range of satellite festivals, educational programs and industry events, underscoring Black Nights’ position as a lynchpin for filmmaking in Estonia and the region.

This year, the festival’s industry section is launching a new series of initiatives aimed at up-and-coming professionals, Breaking Into the Industry, with a new training program for cinematographers. That complements a host of workshops and masterclasses for directors, scriptwriters, producers, production designers, composers and actors.

“Now we feel we have finally reached a place where our programs integrate, participants can meet each other and their work and understand that filmmaking is first and foremost teamwork,” says Triin Tramberg, managing director of the industry program’s Discovery Campus.

For Lokk, the festival’s mission “is to promote Estonia as a whole for the global film industry,” and Black Nights has increasingly looked to highlight the range of shooting locations around the Baltic nation. “Despite the small area, Estonia has surprisingly diverse climate, nature and architecture,” she says. “And since everything is quite nearby, the logistics are quite easy.”

Lokk points not only to the varied geography — pristine forests and wetlands along the Russian border in the east; picturesque coastlines and centuries-old villages in the southwest; rolling, hilly landscapes in the south — but to the regional film funds that facilitate shooting in every corner of the country, with the newly launched Pärnu County Film Fund the latest addition to an arsenal of incentives that includes a 30% cash rebate.

In Cannes, the Tallinn Black Market Goes to Cannes pix-in-post showcase will present five works-in-progress to industry decision-makers during an event on May 20. The diverse, international selection — which includes titles from South America, Portugal, the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine — underscores Black Nights’ position as a launching pad not only for talent from the host nation, but from neighboring countries and beyond.

“Estonian film has highly benefited from the festival,” says Lokk, “especially through the activities that have actively been bringing key figures from the international film industry here to meet the locals and promoting Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian films and filmmakers.”

A similar spirit was brought to the selection of this year’s focus countries in Tallinn, which will highlight Serbia alongside its Balkan neighbors, Croatia, Slovenia and North Macedonia. “These film countries are collaborating a lot, as for a small country it’s difficult to finance a feature film on its own,” says Lokk. “We know it well from our experiences.”

As with Estonia and its Baltic neighbors, she adds, “the focus countries share a common destiny. Even in turbulent times, filmmakers find a way to work together.”

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