A chance meeting on holiday set Donal Fernandes on the previously untrodden Estonian route to Cannes.

The first-time producer was on a trip to the Eastern European country when he bumped into local film-maker Kadri Kousaar, who was struggling to produce her first feature, Magnus.

He had previously met her in 2006 when she showed him her short film. "I was immediately impressed by the camerawork," he recalls.

"I advised her, based on my own experience, and within 36 hours agreed to co-produce the film," he says.

Magnus went on to become the first Estonian film to screen in official selection at the festival, playing in this year's Un Certain Regard.

The partnership has been productive, but the intense, suicide-driven feature was initially a hard sell.

Written and directed by Kousaar, the film follows lonely Magnus (played by pop singer Kristjan Kasearu), who suffers from a fatal lung disease and plays bizarre games to cheat death - a suicidal trait he carries into later life.

The mere mention of suicide pushed many backers away, leaving Fernandes, as a first-time producer, to fund the $100,000 budget himself.

"It was one hell of a risk," he admits. "I've got half of my house on this and the other half on my own film, which I just finished shooting (the black comedy Anxious Dave)."

Magnus was shot entirely in Estonia across 17 locations in 20 days. The location was an easy decision for the team - Kousaar's roots lie in Estonia and the low-cost base appealed to Fernandes as a producer. He sees rates going even lower than those of the Czech Republic and Poland.

"The Estonian government could draw in a lot of money (from film production) and in turn, that could be subsidised for a share in the local-language industry," he says.

Magnus will screen at the Sarajevo, Warsaw, Stockholm, Moscow, Pusan and Thessaloniki festivals with a special Ficep screening in Paris at the end of September. Fernandes' Donus Films is negotiating with buyers.

Fernandes is using the same low-budget approach with Anxious Dave, a $190,000 UK production that he says is "a scary film about loneliness that evolves into a comedy".

After that he may produce Kousaar's next film and he is also considering making a Russian war movie and a satirical political comedy.