Writer-director Ilmar Raag was inspired to tell the story of The Class when the Columbine tragedy in the US awoke memories of his own school days.
Citing a recent study which estimated 76% of Estonian schoolchildren have encountered violence at school, Raag says: "I don't pretend to know what happened in Columbine, but I feel that some patterns of violence are unfortunately universal over time and space."
Raag introduced producer Riina Sildos of Tallin based-Amrion Productions to the idea - about a teenager who stands up to school bullies but is caught in a spiral of violence and tragedy - in 2003. "When he sent me the first draft of the script, I was immediately caught by its sincerity and intensity," Sildos says.
Raag collected anecdotes from students over the internet and at workshops and used them to shape the story. Shooting on digital on location in a school, Raag cast students in several roles.
"It was almost a no-budget film," Sildos says. "We had support money from state funds (of) $190,000. Then there where sponsors, in-kind investment and a lot of deferrals. A lot of people worked for free - actors, part of the crew, etc. On paper the budget was almost $740,000."
Raag released the film first on DVD and did not prepare a film print until it received its first invitation from a festival, which was Karlovy Vary in July. Since its theatrical release, the film has drawn almost 30,000 admissions in Estonia, making it one of the 10 highest grossing films in the country's history. Total admissions in the territory stood at about 170,000 in October.
The film has since been invited to the Warsaw film festival where it won the Fipresci award and Stockholm-based NonStop Sales is handling international sales.
"We wanted the local audience to perceive the film as being as honest as possible," says Raag. "As a result, some critics saw it as too simple and predictable, whereas I was much more happy with the fact the discussion of the film went beyond (the) film and culture pages in newspapers."
Having resigned from his job as chief of acquisitions for Estonian Television and CEO of Estonian National Television, Raag is working on a script for his next project which re-teams him with Sildos. One More Croissant is the story of an Estonian woman who puts her elderly mother in a nursing home and moves to Paris where she takes a job as a carer for another older woman. The director plans to shoot in autumn 2008 in Estonia and in another major city, possibly Paris. The project is in negotiations with a French partner and has an expected budget of $2.2m.
[s19] See Baltic Film Hub, p31.
Ilmar Raag's Cultural Life
Favourite recent film: Veiko Ounpuu's Autumn Ball
Favourite recent book: Alessandro Baricco's Silk
Favourite website: www.onthemedia.org
Inspirations: The true stories of people around us. There are at least two good film stories in the life of my aunt.