Versatile actress Mirtel Pohla appears in three new Estonian films this year, all of which are competing for the Tridens Estonia prize at the Black Nights Film Fest. In the hit children’s film “Secret Society of Souptown,” helmed by Margus Paju, she plays a cunning villain who wants to cash in on a cure for an insidious disease. In the atmospheric, dystopian drama “Roukli,” pictured, her third outing with auteur Veiko Ounpuu, she is a restless woman who returns to her ex-husband in the countryside as war wages in the city. Finally, she coolly portrays a lying receptionist, a bit part in the touching coming-of-ager “Zero Point,” directed by newcomer Mihkel Ulk.
“Souptown,” set in her own hometown of Tartu, marks her first time working with child performers. “They were incredible and their presence on the set required total presence from everybody else as well,” she says. “I admired director Margus Paju’s constant zen state of mind and ability to bring the kids to the very thin line between discipline and playful freedom.”
The crowdfunded, partially improvisational “Roukli” offered a different sort of challenge. “No one got paid, we did not have any makeup or costume department. We were only six actors, the director, cinematographer, sound, editor, producer and two more persons doing whatever else was needed (continuity, set, props) and a chef,” she says. “We stayed in Veiko’s country house and shot it there. . . We shot every day, then discussed, left out scenes that did not seem good, created some new scenes — some improvised, some written by Veiko. I enjoy this kind of working very much. I like to rehearse but usually films are made with very few rehearsals or not at all. We felt free to make all our suggestions and put all ideas out, even if they were not used afterwards.”
After graduating from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in 2004, Pohla spent a decade working in theater and television as well as film. In Estonia all actors work for a variety of mediums. “The Estonian film industry is very small,” she says, adding that actors and other creatives need work on the stage and TV in order to keep building on their craft. She was first a company member of the Estonian Dramatheatre, then part of Theatre NO99. “It has a more radical approach towards theater, many of performances were created by the group,” she says. “It also traveled a lot in Europe, collaborating with the Munchner Kammerspiele, KVS in Belgium and Lyric Hammersmith in London.”
Pohla speaks English and is re-learning French — an international career should beckon.