Presented by the Tartu Institute (of Toronto, Canada) the fourth edition of this Estonian documentary film festival has become a major cultural event for Estonians in Toronto. The volunteer team led by MC of "Telepeegel", filmmaker and CBC lawyer Ellen Valter has had several years of experience and operates like a well-oiled machine. The host and discussion moderator this year was Piret Tibbo-Hudgins who was the Estonian producer of last year’s feature film The Singing Revolution. Producer Tibbo-Hudgins also teaches film at Tallinn University and is a music composer. Aarne Vahtra, who along with Olev Remsu conceived the idea of the festival, moved from moderating the discussion to the audience.
Trip To Valhalla/Surmaretk (a better translation would be Death march) 52min 2008 Director Tõnis Lepik. Producers Ivo Felt, Riina Valmsen.
In 1997 14 out of 25 members of Estonian Defense Forces Recon (commando) unit on an exercise, being dropped into the sea, were killed when the water became unexpectedly stormy. The film interviews the harbourmaster, Heino Kreintal, who tried to rescue as many of the soldiers as would fit into his woefully inadequately small boat and Lt. Jaanus Karm, who was rescued. The military inquiry tried to lay blame on Kreintal even though the army had not provided backup in the water for the exercise. The documentary was well done from a journalistic viewpoint.
Beautiful People 52min 2008. Prod. and Dir. Vahur Laiapea.
Mentally challenged ladies from all over Estonia compete to become Miss Vaimukad. They go through picking their dresses, learning what to say and how to say it. Miss Estonia 2007 introduces them. The winner wants to make a film and the second part of this film is how a noted director Peeter Simm in making that film coaches her.
Universitas Tartuensis 375 54min 2007 Prod. Matti Sepping. Dir. Märten Vaher/Rene Vilbre
Tartu University celebrated its 375th year in 2007 making it one of oldest universities in northern and eastern Europe. Interviews professors are central to the film which and follows historical events and student activities with a wry sense of humour. Very interesting and informative as well as entertaining.
Report: Green Estonia 32min 2007 Prod. Elen Lotman. Dir. Monika Siimets.
This film was not shown on Estonian Television probably because it raised some frightening realities. It interviews people and goes to lengths to propose solutions. Half of the energy Estonia uses comes from Russia. Estonia spends more on energy than Denmark. A wind turbine can power can power 400 homes and there are only 8 days without wind in Estonia. One of the solutions is nuclear power and there is a solution, Ignalina Nuclear Power Station (in Lithuania) is being rebuilt by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and will supply all those countries with power by 2012. Very informative and stirring.
Congratulations 48min 2004 Prod. Anu Veermäe/Rudolf Konimos. Dir. Urmas E. Liiv.
Three teenaged boys, of different cultural backgrounds, who were born in the first year of perestroika become 18 when Estonia gets ready to join the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization are given video cameras with which they can record their friends, school, and life in general. They are also being interviewed about their opinions. their points of view are very interesting.
December Heat 90min 2008 Prod. Artur Talvik. Dir. Asko Kase.
A feature length action-drama about the attempt by the Communists to overthrow the democratically elected Estonian government on December 1, 1924. Interspersed is a romantic interest between two newly married, an army officer and his wife who works in the telegraph office. While the communists capture all of the significant locations in Tallinn amidst dithering by senior army officers and politicians a field officer on leave General Põdder rallies whoever he can find and routs the communists. A thrilling action flick that keeps one on the edge of the seat.
Blockade 55min 2003 Prod. Ants Vist. Dir. Hannu Peltomaa.
The filmmakers discovered declassified military secrets from Estonia, Finland and Sweden that indicated secret agreements that would block off the Gulf of Finland to the Soviets by placing two huge cannons, one in Estonia and one in Finland that would face each other. This was done in co-operation with Sweden, which would benefit, at no cost, because the Soviets would be kept at bay.
The project fell apart when the Soviets invaded Estonia and disassembled the howitzer before they left. Fascinating film.
Sinking The Gustloff: A Tragedy Exiled From Memory 46min Prod. Marcus Kolga and OMNI TV Dir. Marcus Kolga
The sinking of the “Wilhelm Gustloff” was the worst maritime disaster in history. While there were 1,740 fatalities from the Titanic, 9,400 people, mostly children, perished with the Gustloff. Of the three survivors who were interviewed in the film, one, Horst Wolf, was at the showing to add veracity, not that the film needed it. "The film took me over two years to produce," said producer/director Marcus Kolga, who won an award for his first film, "Gulag 113" about his late grandfather's escape from Siberia. "I read about the Wilhelm Gustloff in an award-winning novel by Günter Grass, then I found out it was a true incident," adds Kolga.
The "Gustloff" was carrying more than 10,500 refugees escaping from Soviet persecution when it was sunk by Soviet submarine S-13 lurking in the bay by Gotenhafen/Gdynia. An eerie fact is that the “Gustloff” was originally to have been named “Adolf Hitler”.
"Sinking The Gustloff" was declared the best film of the festival.
Jonathan From Australia 90min Prod. Kai-Ene Raak Dir. Sulev Keedus.
The film was made by an award-winning photographer, well edited and won two major Estonian awards in 2007. Ellen Valter and Piret Tibbo-Hudgins were very impressed by it, even though it is depressing. It’s about an island community (Mustjala) that fishes from rowboats and drinks heavily. They wait for a German liner to dock at the island, and thus have arrived. Unfortunately the liner goes bankrupt and they are back to zero, and drink. Oh, by the way "Jonathan from Australia" is a folksinger (of one song) of a travelling fair. Still working on it.
Tormis' Sledge of Song 58min Prod. Kai-Ene Raak Dir. Sulev Keedus.
Made by the same group as the previous film, but this one was exciting. Veljo Tormis is a composer who has been retired from composing for five years. He sits behind his piano, completes crosswords and reflects "amusingly". His love of ancient folksongs weaves through the film in a marvelous fashion. Truly enjoyable, you had to be there.
Contra Mortem 55min Prod. and Dir. Helle Karis.
One in a series of twelve films of top Estonian doctors, this is one of neurosurgeon Dr. Andres Ellamaa who goes about his work with a dry sense of humour. It was no doubt why he spent two years as minister of health. Another totally enjoyable film.
The Second Coming 27min Prod. Piret Tibbo-Hudgins (the Host and Discussion Moderator) Dir. Tanel Toom.
This is a surrealistic war film about two brothers who keep fighting a nameless enemy in an endless war. One brother wants the other to walk as he carries him around. Of course the other can't walk because he's ... well.... A well-made film.
Nazis and Blondes 58min. Prod. Jaak Kilmi Dir. Arbo Tammiksaar.
After WW II the Soviet film industry, just like that of the west, showed the Nazi soldiers as the villains and who better to cast as Germans than Baltic actors? Now they decided to hand out awards to the Baltic/Nazi/villains. They also interviewed them and then the film began to drag.
Esto ‘72 56min Prod. and Dir. Wilf Fielding.
The final film was one that set Estonian presence in Canada into the public eye. The first Estonian World Festival started with an hour-long telefilm aired on Canada's national broadcaster, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). It helped that Mrs. Riisna (mother-in-law of the leader of Ontario Liberal Party) was on the board of the CBC. It helped that Ed Väär shot so much film footage of Esto '72 that whatever filler was needed he was able to provide. CBC assigned Wilf Fielding, a senior documentary producer to make the film. Noted announcer, Ken Cavanagh, was the moderator and Harriman (who was actually Hungarian Harashty) was the writer. The program featured Secretary of State for External Affairs, Mitchell Sharpe (which upset the Soviet Union) and Progressive Conservative leader, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
Many of those who were in the film were in the audience and dressed in seventies hippie garb. The original film went missing so the one we saw was a recreation. This screening was more like a party, with people recognizing themselves and their friends in the film.
The jury was a trio of documentary and news heavyweights. Zoë Dirse, a winner of Genie, Hot Docs and Golden Gate awards, veteran of National Film Board in Montreal where she shot over 70 docs and features and now teaches cinematography at Sheridan College. Kalli Paakspuu, Genie winner, now teacher at York and Ryerson Universities. Edgar Väär, a year short of being a fifty-year veteran news cameraman with the CBC has filmed countless dignitaries and politicians, and at a year short of 80 years of age is still filming crime news. Väär has also quietly promoted Estonian events from behind the camera lens through the respect he's garnered from fellows in the media.
A thank you to the organizers of estdocs from all those who enjoyed the quality film festival!
estdocs October 17-24, 2008