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Estonian Film Biz Rides Post-Oscar Bump

The foreign-language film Oscar nomination that Estonian drama “Tangerines” earned marked a significant breakthrough internationally for the country’s film industry and also boosted the morale of Estonian filmmakers — and maybe their bottom lines as well.

“ ‘Tangerines’ has shown that it is worth valuing Estonian film and supporting it because it is a hidden pearl,” says Edith Sepp, director of the Estonian Film Institute. “There is talent and power to be noticed.”

The EFI has been pushing for a cash-rebate system to help the industry. According to Sepp, “The new government is very open to this (plan), and signs are very positive.”

In addition to the funds from the Ministry of Culture that the EFI regularly disburses to filmmakers for screenplay development, project development and production support, the org recently launched a low-budget feature funding program and Estonian Republic 100 (EV100). Sepp says, “EV100 will support four to six feature-length films with budgets of three to four times bigger than our yearly budget allows. These funds come not from the Ministry of Culture but directly from the State Office.”

The projects supported by EV100 must appeal to an international audience, and, as Sepp explains, most of these films are co-productions and will also get marketing and distribution support. Sepp notes that EV100 also supports documentaries.

Sten-Kristian Saluveer, industry director for Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival (BNFF), says, “The recent two years have seen quite dramatic changes in the film financing landscape. In addition to the minority co-production grants issued by EFI, filmmakers can access two regional film funds: the Ida Viru Film Fund in Eastern Estonia and the brand-new Tartu Film Fund that gains full speed during the year.”

Black Nights, headed into its 19th edition in November, serves as a major platform for supporting and promoting the local industry in numerous ways, including competition programs, matching buyers and sellers, screening the films for major festival programmers and location promotion. But it also has programs for developing young talent and creating synergy with the venture capital scene and Nordic technology startups, including Skype, which was developed by Estonians and a point of national pride, and whose technical department is still housed in the capital, Tallinn.

Moreover, in 2015, BNFF will host an executive-level audiovisual sector summit, European Film Forum Tallinn 2015, in partnership with the European Commission’s Creative Europe as well as Digital Corner, a technology fair for startups, post-production companies and film technology producers.

In addition to a competition for Estonian production, fest director Tiina Lokk says, “All the Estonians and other filmmakers from the region — from Baltic and Nordic countries and Russia — can participate in the festival’s business platform Industry@Tallinn, which is a meeting point for sales agents to present their available films and upcoming projects for regional distributors and other festival programmers.”

Saluveer says, “The South Korean-Estonian co-production treaty signed in 2013 was largely driven by the festival’s efforts and has already resulted in three Estonian-Korean collaborations.”

Another Industry@Tallinn success story involves the Estonian vfx company Frost FX. Saluveer notes, “The business matching (program) secured them a chance to work with directing duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, whose picture ‘Spring’ premiered at Toronto.”

According to Eda Koppel, head of marketing for the EFI, there are 10 to 13 production companies making feature films in Estonia, including those making a feature for the first time.

Among this year’s upcoming titles will be “Roukli,” the fourth feature from Veiko Ounpuu; “Ghost Mountaineer,” the first-ever Estonian-Italian co-production, helmed by Urmas Eero Liiv, and produced by Anneli Ahven of Kopli Kinokompanii; and “Seneca’s Day,” the first-ever Estonian-Latvian-Lithuanian co-production.

Next year will see Estonian co-productions with the Netherlands, Poland, Ireland, Belgium and Croatia.

Koppel notes, “These are new co-production countries for us. Now the producers are looking for new co-production partners.”

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