Tiina Lokk

Source: POFF

Tiina Lokk

As the founder and long-time director of Estonia’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Tiina Lokk has faced her fair share of challenges over more than 25 years.

Ahead of the launch of the 26th edition, which runs November 11-27, Lokk discusses how new crisis guidelines have been drawn up this year, an upcoming boost to the budget and a new Critics’ Picks section.

She also highlights what to expect on the industry front, what international guests should expect and how the industry plans to maintain its sustainability commitments.

What have been the challenges of bringing back the ‘full-force’ festival?

It feels like Covid is forgotten this year, even if it is hiding somewhere. We still do have our share of crises, so we know how to act if the need arises. Last year, when we had a “full-force” festival, with around 1,600 accredited guests and 70,000 admissions, on the top of the Covid wave, we managed to run the festival without any outbreaks, so we do hope to avoid Covid again.

This year we’ve created new crisis guidelines - what to do if there will be energy issues or something else - so life never gets tired of offering new challenges. You could ask me what kind of crises we don’t have right now: electricity, gas, economics, the highest inflation in Europe, the war in Ukraine.

How has that impacted sponsorship and your overall budget?
We are very thankful that nobody has left us and we luckily have succeeded to find even some new supporters. Yes, we are in a very difficult financial situation, but tell me when we haven’t been. We have hope that our audience is coming back, after two Covid years. People have been buying tickets in the pre-sale and we have a very good programme, so “hope is dying last” , as Estonians like to say.

We also have good news. Our government added €1m ($1m) to our budget, which is very important for us, and we are thankful as we know how tight the state budget is during these hard times. But that is from next year. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we must manage to survive this year.

Our budget this year is much the same as last year and the year before. Whether we end up in the minus or not depends on so many factors - most importantly, the final box office. We will see, but it’s not an easy time. The budget is €1.7m ($1.74m). I know for most other festivals it is such a small number and they probably are thinking we are kidding - how it is possible to make such a festival of this kind of capacity and format for such a small budget? Honestly, we don’t know. It is tricky but possible.

What is new about the festival for 2022?
Each competition programme has its own lead curator. Niki Nikitin is responsible for the Critics’ Picks, with Triin Tramberg handling First Features, Edvinas Pukšta on Baltic Competition duty, Javier Garcia Puerto heading Rebels With a Cause, Helmut Jänes leading Midnight Shivers and Tiit Tuumalu organising Doc@PÖFF. Moving forward, this will help each section to develop its own identity and character. In turn, our audiences will be better able to find the right films for their tastes, be they international industry professionals or cinephiles in Estonia. I could also say it’s new that we have 78 world premieres and 48 international premieres – that’s a new record for us.

Critics’ Picks is new this year. What are you looking to achieve with it?
Critics’ Picks is a programme we’ve been thinking about for many years. Estonia does not have a huge number of [local] film critics, so we made the decision to let the film critics and theorists already in our programming team select the competition films. It’s a truly excellent first selection and I am excited to see how the programme develops in the future.

We’re very happy that many films have already been picked up for sales and distribution in the lead-up to the festival, including ones such as Slovakia-Czech Republic co-production The Chambermaid, which is making its world premiere in Critics’ Picks, and In Bed, which will have its international premiere in the Rebels With a Cause Competition and In Focus: Israel.

What do we need to know about the industry programme this year? 
Some industry highlights include our Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event conferences, which include forums on European film funds in transformation, increasing industry-wide cooperation with the Ukrainian film and AV sector and exploring, and setting the principles of the European Immersive and Web3 technologies for the audiovisual industry.

We also have a capacity-building seminar on environmental sustainability in film and TV productions, the Script Pool, Black Night Stars and Music Meets Film with a concert by renowned composer William Goldstein on November 21, creating live music for Jaan Tootsen’s documentary Fred Jüssi. The Beauty Of Being.

How many international guests will you have this year, and how does that compare to last year and 2019? What are some of the events they should look forward to?
Right now, it seems there will be around the same number as last year – about 1,600 accredited guests. We tried hard to maintain a similar attendance because flight tickets became so expensive and hotels are also raising their prices. We had parties last year and will again this year. We will keep winter swimming and bog trips and this year the industry and press will visit the East of Estonia. It’s a very interesting part of the country, especially if you are thinking about locations.

The festival is big on sustainability – you planted a park to offset the carbon footprint. Are there any new moves in that area? Are you still looking to fly as many filmmakers/teams out to Estonia as possible?
Yes, we are still planning to fly as many guests we can as it is more green and time-effective than driving by car or cruising across the Atlantic. The amount of fuel consumed by an airplane, divided by the number of people and kilometres, leaves a smaller CO2 footprint than driving a car. In Tallinn, the festival is using only hybrid cars or tram. We are planting our own trees, taking care of a special area of forest and our park in Tallinn. We reduced our number of printed catalogues and marketing materials and we are trying to avoid using paper tickets. You can use them if you need, but most people will use their mobile phones. We take it one step at a time, implementing many other small but important changes.