One of the first signs that welcomes visitors after landing in Tallinn airport is a large banner that reads “You have now entered the sphere of influence of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival”. Well, I have now ventured past Tallinn’s sphere of influence, in a literal sense, having landed back in London a few days ago. But I carry with me the memory of twenty-one films, which I have written about in pieces published here. The majority of films which I was offered to review were part of the Debut Feature Competition (sixteen), with one film from the Baltic Selection, one from the Youth Competition, one from the Documentary Selection, and two films which were screened out-of-competition.
I started my journey through Tallinn’s selection of films by watching the latest work by two directors I admire: Polish masters Krzysztof Zanussi and Jerzy Skolimovski. It was a pleasure to see that their respective films, Perfect Number and EO, were both a return to form. Zanussi’s film also screened in front of a packed house, on an evening which saw the arrival of snow. On my third day, I was recommended to see the Lithuanian historical drama, The Poet (Giedrius Tamoševičius & Vytautas V. Landsbergis),which became my first five star review of the festival. The film reminded me of classic historical war pieces by Aleksei German or Andrei Tarkovsky (mainly, Ivan’s Childhood, 1962). It also offered, in my view, the refreshing portrait of an artist in times of war, avoiding the usual romanticisation that goes with the representation of ‘the poet’. The Debut Feature Competition started on the 16th, after which date, I was relentlessly exposed to youthful talent from all around the world. The selection was particularly diverse, showcasing films from Japan, India, Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, Kosovo, South Korea, Brazil, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Norway, and others. For a young filmmaker like myself, the opportunity to cover the Debut competition of a festival such as Tallinn Black Nights was especially enlightening. Attending the premieres, participating in the Q&As and mingling with the cast and crew was a rewarding experience which allowed me to delve deeper into the films I was writing about.
As the films went on, I realised that in my writing I was trying to draw filmmakers’ attention to a specific point, or criticism: that their debut films were not formally imaginative enough. With the exception of a few films which I thought had developed a formally impressive cinematic language, the vast majority of films, while most of them functional and technically proficient, failed when it came to the creation of a unique style that defied easy convention. I understand that as a young filmmaker, a debut represents a point of pressure, where a film can break or make a career. It is thus tempting to make a short piece (1hr30 max), and to rely excessively on the textbook of cinematic conventions that the lifespan of filmmaking has created. However, one should learn to let go of such neutralising demands, for creativity strikes unforeseen, outside of the textbook, when filmmakers truly reach within themselves. Films that felt immensely personal, in my view, were for instance: Amar Colony (Siddharth Chauhan), Until the Branches Bend (Sophie Jarvis), Pelican (Filip Herakovic) and The Land Within (Fisnik Maxville).
The Festival ceremony took place yesterday announcing winners for the Debut strand. It was with great pleasure that I saw the Jury awarding Fisnik Maxville’s The Land Within with the Best Debut Award. I saw the film on the Debut Competition’s second day. It left me speechless and deeply moved. I came back to the hotel room with a million thoughts, and gave it my second five-star rating of the Festival. I implore readers to seek out Maxville’s remarkable debut once it is released to wider audiences. Yesterday, the Swiss-Kosovar production took the prize for the Best Debut, but Croatian Pelican and Indian Amar Colony were also awarded with a joint Special Jury Prize for Debut Features. The FIPRESCI award was given to the thrilling Spanish chamber piece Upon Entry (Alejandro Rojas, Juan Sebastián Vásquez), which depicted the tense and de-humanising interrogation of a couple by border officials as they attempt to enter the US.
Overall, the trip to Tallinn was intense, and when it was over, there was still a sense that I had never left Tallinn. The whole city was filled with a sense of there being endless amounts of activities to do, and so little time! A great deal of films to catch, a lot of writing, but also, many distractions, including the many field trips, morning baths and parties offered by the festival. The frequent visits to the Noho bar next to the Nordic Hotel lobby became a sort of filling station where glasses of wine were consumed as carburant to quickly go back upstairs and write some more. Hopefully next year will see me returning to the snow-covered streets of Tallinn!
The still at the top of this article is from The Land Within.