In the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, organizers of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival quickly shifted gears to offer whatever support they could. Festival director Tiina Lokk says the urgency of the moment was not lost on her or her fellow Estonians, who share a border with Russia and only won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
“The war in Ukraine has been felt very deeply here,” Lokk tells Variety. “Estonians know the price of freedom and we see that Ukrainians are now fighting a war for us all. It’s a very personal issue among the many members of the [Tallinn Black Nights] team who have been involved directly with humanitarian efforts.”
The festival announced in early March that for its annual pix-in-post showcase, Tallinn Black Nights Goes to Cannes, it would showcase five Ukrainian feature films that will be pitched to potential partners, sales agents and festival programmers in Cannes on May 21. A month later, the Cannes Marché du Film said it would present a wide-ranging Ukraine in Focus program for Ukrainian filmmakers and producers over two days during the Cannes Film Festival, on May 21 and 22.
In addition to its Goes to Cannes showcase, Tallinn Black Nights is collaborating with the Marché du Film to showcase four Ukrainian films close to completion in the Ukrainian Features Preview program. It’s also helped bring together a coalition of supporters for the Ukrainian pavilion and to fund travel and accommodation costs for Ukrainian filmmakers. “Though there is still much more to do, it’s heartening to see the international film community coming together and all pulling in the same direction,” says Lokk.
The Estonian festival – the biggest and most prestigious in the Baltic and Nordic region – has offered a showcase in recent years for such emerging Ukrainian directors as Yaroslav Lodygin, whose debut “The Wild Fields” played in Tallinn’s first feature competition in 2018, and Volodymyr Tykhyy, who appeared in the same competition with “The Gateway” in 2017.
Through its industry arm, which hosted a small focus on Ukraine in 2016, Tallinn has offered a springboard for projects such as Nariman Aliev’s “Homeward,” which took part in the Baltic Event Co-Production Market before premiering in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2019, and Anna Buryachkova’s “When We Were 15,” a co-pro market participant that will take part in this year’s Ukrainian Features Preview program in Cannes.
Other Cannes Marché initiatives, including the Cannes Docs Showcase and the Producers Network, will also shift their focus this year to provide greater visibility to projects and executives from Ukraine.
Producer Darya Bassel, who’s taking part in the Producers Network’s Ukrainian Producers Under the Spotlight initiative, which is presented in collaboration with the Ukrainian Institute, praised the efforts of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and the Cannes Market for offering a platform for Ukrainian cinema on the world’s biggest stage. “This is the time to hear Ukrainian voices and to explore Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian filmmaking,” she said.
Bassel is a producer on Roman Bondarchuk’s “The Editorial Office,” a co-production with Darya Averchenko (South Films) and Tanja Georgieva-Waldhauer (Elemag Pictures), which is being presented during Tallinn Black Nights Goes to Cannes. “We are kind of stuck in the beginning of post-production, in rough cut,” she says. “We’re looking for financing and additional funds to continue to do our work. There are a lot of projects like that.”
The producer said she was moved by the support of the international film community in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine – “The response was huge”– while adding that the high-profile platform provided by Tallinn Black Nights and the Marché du Film offers her and her Ukrainian colleagues a much-needed boost. “Being in Cannes, and having a possibility to meet possible partners, it is very important,” she says.
Denis Ivanov, of Kyiv-based Arthouse Traffic, says many Ukrainian filmmakers have been scrambling for ways to get their unfinished films across the finish line, even looking to other European countries to complete their shoots. “We hope to win, and a lot of people have started to think about after the war,” he says.
Ivanov is presenting director Natalka Vorozhbyt’s “Demons,” a co-production with Dmytro Minzianov of Kristi Film, during Tallinn Black Night Goes to Cannes. He also has a slate of new projects he’ll be presenting to potential partners as part of the Producers Network’s Ukraine focus.
The familiar rhythms of industry life have offered hopes of an eventual return to something like normalcy, as has the support of industry colleagues from across the globe who have rallied to Ukraine’s side throughout the war. “Three months ago, I was much more pessimistic than we are now,” he says. “This really gives us a lot of hope that we are not alone.”