Postcard from Tallinn Black Nights

A taste of the film festival's international flavour.

by Amber Wilkinson

Konstantin Lopushanskiy's The Role
Konstantin Lopushanskiy's The Role
Sitting on the Baltic Sea, the capital of this young republic is hunkering down for the winter ahead as the daylight shrinks back to seven hours and the temperatures drop to freezing. This makes the warm glow of a cinema screen all the more appealing, as audiences, with a hearteningly young demographic, queue up for a taste of international cinema at the 17th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. With 500 films being shown and more than 50 filmmakers heading to town in support, they certainly don't lack choice.

At just past the midway point , the various international competitions are underway and the industry events have begun bringing truckloads of talent to town, with attendees as diverse as Mephisto director István Szabó, who has received the BNFF Lifetime Award this year, and the Canadian producer of Gabrielle and Whitewash Luc Dery, alongside industry delegates such as Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League (whose tweets from Tallinn are worth a look for the sauna description alone).

Here as part of the critics FIPRESCI jury, I'm getting to fill my boots on Baltic films, from countries including Germany, Russia, Estonia and Latvia - which has so far been a pleasure - as well as catching movies from elsewhere in the programme.

In addition to speaking to Kami's Party director Ali Ahmadzadeh, it was interesting to hear his fellow countryman Majid Barzegar, who is here with father and son relationship drama Parviz, echo his comments on the difficulties of making films in Iran.

At a filmmakers' press conference, Barzegar said: "Nowadays in Iran, there are two types of film indusstry - a government one and an indpendent one. It doesn't mean it is a big advantage. This movie had private and underground shows in Iran." He added that the majority of audiences who attend such screenings are "young and open-minded".

Among the other films that I've caught here this week is Konstantin Lopushanskiy's The Role (Rol). This black and white drama - featuring haunting cinematography from Dmitri Mass - concerns an actor in revolutionary Russia who decides to try to take over his dead doppelganger's life as the ultimate part. Speaking about the film, Lopushanksiy was asked whether the film might work best for Russian audiences with a grounding in their country's history.

"The film deals with general human issues," he said. "The destiny of actors, but it is also talking about the destiny of my country, of Russia, and my thoughts about the destiny of humanity. Hopefully everyone will understand it."

The film is certainly difficult at first - not helped by multiple translations on the version I saw - but its somber sweep grips increasingly deeply as the action progresses and we begin to see tragedy waiting in the wings - even though it is viewed with interesting ambivalence by the central character of Nikolai (Maksim Sukhanov).

Speaking about his connection to Tallinn, he added that when he was a student, he gained practical experience on the set of Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky (who became his mentor), which was shot in the city.

Highlights still to come this week, include the European premiere of Spike Lee's Oldboy remake. The reimagining of Park Chan-wook's revenge thriller, stars Josh Brolin and goes on general release in the UK on December 6. The awards - including those for the short film sub-festival Sleepwalkers - will be announced on November 29.

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