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Estonia celebrates 100 years of film history

With a centenary of cinema to celebrate, Estonia used April 30 to recognise the achievements of some its most venerated stars and directors.

The small Baltic state of Estonia pulled out all the stops on Monday as it commemorated 100 years since the first Estonian movie - Johannes Pääsuke’s 1912 political story Bear Hunt in Pärnu County (Karujaht Pärnumaal) – was made.

The day began with the ferrying of various local film luminaries from Tallinn to the university town of Tartu on the ‘CineTrain’. Replete with film posters from the history of Estonian cinema, on board screenings of classic moments from Estonian film history and a free drink or two, the ‘CineTrain’ ensured the assembled throng were in high spirits on arrival.

A parade from Tartu Train Station to the Estonian National Museum - where a stamp commemorating Johannes Pääsuke was unveiled – kept the party atmosphere alive and on to the evening for the Estonian Film 100th Anniversary Award Show.

Broadcast live on national television, the show itself was an impressive affair striking a fine balance between reverence and humour. Noted comedians/actors Ott Sepp and Märt Avandi took hosting duties and – a la Billy Crystal at the Oscars – inserted themselves into scenes of renowned Estonian movies, much to the delight of the audience.

The awards themselves – voted for by a panel of Estonian film industry experts – ranged from the light-hearted (including ‘Best Quote’, ‘Best Couple’ and ‘Motif That Has Defined Estonian Cinema’ – which went to ‘ambiguous eyes’) to the more serious matters of Best Actor (which went to Lembit Ulfsak, the star of numerous films and TV shows) and Best Actress (the winner of which, Elle Kull, appeared by video to say that she didn’t deserve it.)

The biggest winner of the night was Kevade (Spring) (1969), a beloved coming-of-age tale adapted from a classic Estonian novel, which won Best Estonian Film of All Time as voted by the public. Receiving his award from Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia, director Arvo Kruusement received a standing ovation

Whilst very much a celebration of times past, the ceremony and ensuing after-party saw venerated directors mix with their contemporary counterparts (including Ilmar Raag, the director of Estonian hit film Klass) and – for one day at least – the Estonian Film Industry felt very big indeed.

Photos by Gabriela Liivamägi

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