"September" - Six days that shook our Estonian world (2)
EstDocs 08 Oct 2010 Alan TederEWR
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Film review by Alan Teder
Director: Ilmar Raag, Producer: Kiur Aarma/Traumfabrik OÜ

Six days that shook our Estonian world

Director Ilmar Raag’s documentary film “September” covers a crucial period in the history of the Estonian nation and also in the personal history of most Estonian families. In the six days from Sunday, September 17, 1944, when the order came from Berlin that German military forces were to evacuate Estonia, to Friday, September 22, 1944, when the battle tanks of the Soviet Red Army entered Tallinn, the diverse fates of many Estonians and their loved ones were determined.

The film begins with a 20 minute prologue that quickly covers the period from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact’s 1940 Soviet Russian occupation through that of Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. The March 9, 1944 Soviet terror air raid on Tallinn citizenry becomes especially noteworthy as an indication of what any future Soviet “liberation” might bring with it.

The interviews and memoirs of two eminent Estonians are used throughout the film to highlight historical events. The late author Jaan Kross (1920-2007) was a Tartu University law student who found himself working with the Estonian Independence movement and Father Vello Salo (1925-) was a high school graduate who went with the Estonian volunteers to Finland and then returned to his homeland when the “Soomepoisid” (the Finnish boys) were called home in August 1944.

The filmmakers have very creatively utilized all of the materials they were able to research and assemble. The film goes well beyond the standard newsreel and propaganda footage that the Nazi German and Soviet Russian occupation forces were interested in documenting. Raag combines the archival clips with extensive zoom and scan of archival photos and with present-day interviews, footage and re-enactments. One of the sly pleasures for the audience is to try and spot where present-day re-enactments have been subtly inserted between archival sources. (Hint: the German SD Secret Police were not very amenable to having their activities documented and secretive nighttime activity by both the Gestapo or Estonian Resistance was not usually accompanied by a film crew.) The present-day inserts of photos and film-clips have been craftily “aged” by giving them the same brownish tint of the archival shots, but they are still considerably sharper than the grainy quality of originals. All of this is so well done that you could watch the film straight through and this sleight-of-hand will not even register.

Director Ilmar Raag will be the guest moderator for the entire week of EstDocs so the audience will have a face-to-face opportunity for a Q&A with the filmmaker to hear the background on how this significant historical documentary film came together.

"September" will have its Canadian Premiere as a Gala screening at the EstDocs Festival on Sunday October 17, 2010 at 6 pm (preceded by a 5 pm reception). The other half of the evening will be presentation of the second annual EstDocs Short Film Competition winning films and this all will take place at the beautiful Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles Street West (by the Museum Subway Station).
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