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Estonia fest fires up film memorial

Reel of shorts set ablaze to mourn format's demise

TALLIN, ESTONIA — Several short films from well-known directors premiered in Tallinn, Estonia, last month but they’ll never be seen again.

The minute-long pics helmed by Naomi Kawase, Brian Yuzna and Ken Jacobs, among others, were shown Dec. 22 as part of portmanteau film “60 Seconds of Solitude.” Immediately after the screening, the film print was set ablaze. There are no copies.

Based on a written manifesto by Estonian actor Taavi Eelmaa and countryman Veiko Ounpuu (helmer of “Autumn Ball”, recently voted the best Estonian film in history), the event was designed as a protest to the commercialization of cinema and — with 35mm film steadily being replaced by digital — something of a funeral for the format.

A large audience braved cold weather to experience the unique outdoor screening held in the city’s port. As the film unspooled, it seemed people were watching more intently, aware they were the only witnesses to a brief moment of film history. The films themselves varied from the wildly experimental to the keenly literal; Mark Cousins(“The History of Film”) created a piece in which flowers were laid at the graves of Ernst Lubitsch, Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton.

While most of the films were bleak in tone (Brian Yuzna’s comic vignettes were an exception), the event was a success as an impassioned paean to the power of cinema and a lament for the increasing marginalization of noncommercial voices.

But as the print of the film burned in an impressive post-screening pyrotechnic display, the screen itself failed to ignite as planned. Perhaps even at its supposed “funeral,” cinema was serving notice that it’s not dead yet.

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