LONDON — The 19th Black Nights Film Festival, which runs Nov. 13-29 in Tallinn, Estonia, has unveiled its inaugural Tridens first feature competition lineup, which contains 14 world and international premieres. Two additional films screen out of competition.
Festival director Tiina Lokk said of the selection: “The festival was looking for the birth of an artist with an original and strong vision, and the ability to engage the audiences with universally graspable messages.”
Among the themes in the selection are how people and their destinies are shaped by their environments, as seen in “Delivery,” a world premiere from Colombian director Martin Mejira Rugeles, which the festival describes as “a small and quiet yet enchanting celebration of life.” The film follows a pregnant woman living in a remote Colombian forest village, building “an increasingly immersive narrative around the documentary-like observation of the daily activities and minimalist interactions of the villagers,” the festival said.
The intersection of small stories and a kind of a quasi-anthropological study of people in their every-day environment is also one of the motifs in the Australian film “Pawno.” Director Paul Ireland’s laid-back, stylized approach is focused on telling stories about “the quirky melodramas of the people whose point of interaction is a pawnshop owned by an old school charmer of a tough guy and his young employee.”
The way changes to ties with one’s habitat can be a source of conflict is evident in the Iranian film “Two,” also a world premiere. It is directed by the Iranian actress Soheila Golestani, who starred in the film “Today,” winner of several awards at Black Nights Film Festival last year.
Her directorial debut, which the festival describes as “a fine example of the modernized visual language of Iranian cinema,” looks at the efforts of a cleaning woman to communicate with a man who has started a family in Germany and has only returned to Iran to sell his former home, with which he has lost all emotional connection.
Another theme is identities in flux, as seen in the U.S. drama “Lost in the White City.” Directing duo Tanner King Barklow and Gil Kofman present “a story about artistic, emotional and sexual self-discovery in a culturally and politically complex environment,” said the festival.
Tel Aviv acts as one of the characters in the film. “The inner tensions of two American students, writer Eva and experimental filmmaker Kyle, trying to fix their broken relationship, are amplified by the city, under which hedonistic and culturally flourishing facade is the ever-present threat of violence, inflicted by the seemingly never-ending conflict of Israel and Palestine,” the festival said.
German-Mongolian director Uisenma Borchu presents the viewer with an intriguing situation in “Don’t Look at Me That Way.” In the film, a young seductive Mongolian woman living in Germany, Hedi, toys with the emotions of a single mother. The festival said the director “exposes herself radically in the role of Hedi, confronting viewers with questions of gender roles, power, sexuality and identity, effectively mixing the borders of reality and the subconscious of the protagonist.”
Relationships in distress are also a feature of world premiere “Loev,” directed by the Darjeeling-born director Sudhansu Saria, who presents “with admirable delicacy” a story of the complex triangular relationship between three gay Indian men. Central to the film is the scenic road-trip taken by the business shark Jai, residing in the U.S., and the bohemian musician Sahil.
The painful realization of changing personalities and the sense of drifting apart is the central theme in “Road-Movie,” another world premiere. A young ambitious advertising executive goes on a road trip with his childhood girlfriend only to realize how far his pragmatic mindset has taken him from her spiritual freedom and naivete. Without indulging in preaching, the young Czech director Martin Jelinek creates “a truly intimate and warm atmosphere on the protagonists’ journey,” the festival states.
A “bittersweet afterglow of an ancient culture in decline” can be felt in Paraguayan-Argentinian co-production “Guarani,” a world premiere from director Luis Zorraquin. A traditional Guarani-speaking grandfather sees that his descendants are drifting away from the old ways. The proud river-boat operator senses the angst of his closest granddaughter and sets out with her on a “journey of self discovery and reconciliation” through the scenic Paraguayan countryside to Buenos Aires looking for the girl’s mother.
The journey, in a physical and moral sense, is also a central theme in the Russian feature “The Find,” which is directed by TV documentary and theater director Viktor Dement. A hard-boiled fishing and hunting inspector is forced to take a long hike back home through the Siberian forests, accidentally stumbling on a discovery — an abandoned baby — that sets his life on a new path, pursuing moral justice to the extreme.
The Estonian documentary filmmaker Urmas E. Liiv’s debut “Ghost Mountaineer,” another world premiere, employs autobiographical elements in an adventure story set in the Siberian taiga, balancing youth drama with mysticism and horror elements. A trip led by geology students looking for the then rare nephrite rock goes awry when one member of the group goes missing. The rest are forced to face the superstitions of the indigenous people and the repression of the Soviet police.
The Norwegian first-time director Charlotte Blom “swings eloquently between comedy and drama” with her story of the impact of the break-up of a couple with two children in “Staying Alive.” Agnes Kittelsen portrays a mother who has to cope with the hole left behind by his husband’s decision to start over with a co-worker, while also discovering the polygamous relationships of her parents.
The Spanish feature “Food and Shelter,” by director Juan Miguel del Castillo, is the story of a young single mother and her son fighting to avoid eviction and starvation, which serves as a critique of the Spanish government’s neglect of the plights of thousands of families with special needs.
A road trip as a means of escape forms the psychological foundation for the French-Colombian co-production “Anna,” which is a world premiere. It is the story of an emotionally distressed and socially irresponsible yet adventurous mother desperately fighting for the right to be with her son. The director is Jacques Toulemonde Vidal.
Israeli film editor and lecturer Tova Ascher makes her directorial debut with “A.K.A. Nadia,” telling a story about a Palestinian woman forced to change her identity only to experience the re-emergence of her past decades later, threatening the balance of her new Israeli family. Her film is a fine example of quiet and indirect critique of the political and ideological status quo in Israel.
Screening out of competition is South Korean historical drama “Snowy Road” by director Lee Najeong. The protagonist Jong-bun is an elderly woman whose past as a “comfort woman” for the Japanese army during World War II is represented to the viewer via her encounter with a young girl.
Also screening out of competition is the French film “All Three of Us,” in which the director and leading actor Kheiron delivers a moving feel-good drama with comedic elements, depicting the journey of an Iranian family migrating to France in search of a better life. In an era where mass immigration is mostly seen as a problem in Europe and migrants as an anonymous mass, the film gives names, faces and personal stories to people looking to improve their lives.