Last year, Tallinn Black Nights joined a select group of European film festivals — ranging from Cannes to Karlovy Vary — in adding an Ecumenical Jury prize to its awards roster. The rare juried honor that takes the power out of film insiders’ hands, the Ecumenical award is traditionally determined by a group of Christian religious professionals; as much emphasis is placed on a film’s spiritual and humanist qualities as its aesthetic virtues.
The adoption of the award reflects the growing profile of the Black Nights fest, which was awarded Class A status by FIAPF (the International Federation of Film Producers Associations) last year. But some might view it as a surprising addition for a festival situated in Estonia, famously one of the least religious countries in the world: In a 2011 census, no religion was identified for over 70% of the population.
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the religious sympathies of the Ecumenical Jury at Tallinn are far from rigidly Christian: Last year, the jury chose as its winner Iranian filmmaker Reza Mirkarimi’s Tehran-set parable “Today.” This year, fest director Tiina Lokk-Tramberg proudly points out, the jury — which comprises prominent figures in the Russian Orthodox Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church and Opus Dei, among others — has a Muslim guest representative.
“Hopefully one day they will also be presenting an official member to the jury, since most of the basic values of both of the religions are similar,” Lokk-Tramberg says. “It is only a matter of will to participate in the dialogue.”
For one of this year’s jurors, musician and Orthodox Church member Sakarias Leppik, “the aim of Ecumenical Jury is to value seen films on the perspective of both Christian ethics and film art.” He continues, “The members of the jury represent a huge aesthetic experience of different confessions. Film is an art to depict life. As much the Tallinn audience have their world view, through what they understand of human relations, so members of Ecumenical Jury discuss every necessary topic, in order to find a common solution.”