As festival director Tiina Lokk and her team were making preparations for the 21st edition of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (November 17-December 3) this year, her energies were just as much concentrated on securing the event’s budget as on scouting and selecting films to screen.
“Currently we’re operating with the same budget that we had before becoming A-class,” explains Lokk, referring to the competitive status awarded by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF) in 2014. “The problem is that the market size of Estonia is very small and sponsorship money is directly linked to the market and marketing.”
Nevertheless, she is now in “constructive discussions” with the Estonian government and the city of Tallinn for more support, having already brought Finnish telecommunications company Elisa on board as a generous new partner, as well as continuing to work with numerous initiatives of the Creative Europe MEDIA sub-programme.
Lokk, who has been running the festival since 1997, points out that almost half of this year’s 1,600-plus submissions were international or world premieres. However, Black Nights’ goal is not to programme world premieres at all costs. “The interest of the filmmakers and films is more important than our ego,” she declares. “We have allowed a lot of films to screen at their domestic festivals, as we are always looking case by case for what is best for the film.”
Looking at the line-up for the Official Selection and First Features competition, Lokk stresses she is “extremely happy with both the quality of the films and the selection of countries we managed to get”.
While countries with a strong tradition in auteur cinema such as Italy, Iran, the US and South Korea appear again among the invited titles, this year Black Nights also casts a spotlight on countries whose film output is not yet so widely known such as Kosovo, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan and Macedonia. “Also, it’s great to have an Estonian film [The Manslayer. The Virgin. The Shadow] after so many years and a Finnish film [The Eternal Road] for the first time in Official Selection,” she adds.
Lokk admits she was perhaps naive to expect the ‘A’ category would automatically create new opportunities for the festival, Estonian cinema and Estonia in general as well as manifest itself in an increased budget. “There was a lot of explaining to be done to make people outside of the film industry realise what the A-category actually demands from a festival,” she recalls.
“When I started to compare our achievement with Estonia [hypothetically] reaching the final eight of the World Cup in football, then people started to get it — the potential and the impact it creates. So, we’re now looking at the future with more optimism.”
Moreover, Black Nights’ relations with most distributors are strong, according to Lokk. “There’s a growing sense of co-operation as both sides actively think about which films are specifically our material,” she says. “The festival’s programme, and the festival as a whole, is a developing organism. We are constantly experimenting, and time will tell what will work and what will not.”
As part of the 21st Black Nights Film Festival’s regional focus on Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, the festival will open this year on November 17 with Michael R Roskam’s Racer And The Jailbird. The film, which stars Matthias Schoenaerts and Adele Exarchopoulos, premiered out of competition in Venice and is Belgium’s submission for 2018’s foreign-language Oscar.
The 18-title Official Selection (formerly known as the Main Competition) features seven world premieres including Adam Christian Clark’s comedy Newly Single and Estonian filmmaker Sulev Keedus’s drama The Manslayer. The Virgin. The Shadow, as well as international premieres of films from Germany (A Thought Of Ecstasy), Finland (The Eternal Road) and China (Bangzi Melody). The competition’s Wolf statuettes will be awarded by a jury including PR supremo Dennis Davidson, Japanese filmmaker Naoko Ogigami (Close-Knit) and Estonian producer Ivo Felt.
The Screen International Critics’ Choice strand celebrates its 10th anniversary by presenting some of the best films to show at international festivals this year. The selection will include God’s Own Country, Nothingwood, Foxtrot, Summer 1993, The Shape Of Water, Custody and Montparnasse Bienvenue.
The line-up for the third edition of the First Features Competition includes the world premieres of independent Indian filmmaker Kabir Mehta’s feature-length debut Buddha.mov and Kosovan director Blerta Zeqiri’s The Marriage, as well as international premieres of Daniel Rezende’s Bingo: The King Of The Mornings from Brazil (also the country’s foreign-language Oscar submission) and Cristobal Serra Jorquera’s The Heat After The Rain from Costa Rica. Black Nights is also introducing a new competition programme called Rebels With A Cause with the audience as the jury.
Festival director Lokk says the sidebar will “screen films that are experimental either in form or narrative and engage strongly with current sociopolitical topics or present a very unique and personal artistic vision”.
Black Nights key dates
- Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival Nov 17-Dec 3
- European Genre Forum Nov 25-27
- Industry@Tallinn Nov 27-Dec 1
- POWR Baltic Stories Exchange Nov 27-29
- Screen Stars Tallinn Nov 28-30
- Script Pool Tallinn Nov 28-30
- Black Nights Catwalk Nov 28
- Baltic Event co-production market Nov 29-Dec 1
- Storytek Forum Nov 29