In it Black Nights Film Festival In Tallinn, Estonia, the Baltic Film sidebar has shown an impressive array of work from the Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia), including the post-Soviet documentary “The Last Relic” and the 3D fable “Twittering Soul,” the hand-painted the animated “The Peasants” and the Estonian oddity “Spit in My Face.”
A palpable urgency can be felt as these former Soviet countries once again find themselves literally on the front lines between Europe and Russia and seek to more deeply assert their own identity.
Leading the way this year has been “Smoke Sauna Brotherhood”, an intimate documentary of women getting rid of their demons in the smoke sauna of the title. After winning awards at Sundance and now in Tallinn, the film is heading into the Oscar race as a nominee for Estonia and also in the documentary category.
Talking with Varietydirector Anna suggestions expresses bemused delight: “It’s something I’m still processing. It’s surreal to see mostly American productions. And there is our film, almost like a mistake.” It’s been a long journey, and Hints wryly points out that the film is being praised for the qualities that got its initial funding request rejected. “It was a great challenge to film and such a local culture. Southeast Estonia is a very small part of the world.” But Hints believes that Estonia – like the other Baltic countries – suffers from an inferiority complex. “We Estonians are like peasants who look out the window at the landowner’s main house. And then we go back to our farm and start imitating it.”
The “Smoke Sauna” represents a unique heritage: “I didn’t realize how special it is. It was only when I visited a sweat lodge in the United States that I realized there was something so special about home.” This confident affirmation of local identity is key to the film’s success: “The unique part is the local part, where we find our unique voices and, at the same time, they resonate with the world, because in some way they touch the human condition. .”
The Latvian film “My Freedom” speaks directly to the moment and the liberation of Latvia from the former USSR, but it was conceived seven years earlier. The film follows Alicija (Erika Eglija-Gravele), a political activist running for election to the Supreme Council in 1990. “In the ’80s, I was a teenager,” says director Ilze Kunga-Melgaile. Variety. “In the 90s there were many problems with everyday life, with finding enough food, and from the year 2000 the problems had to do with the growing influence of Moscow. I based Alicija on real-life activist Ita Kozakeviča. She was very smart to remind people that having freedom means nothing if they don’t fight for that freedom every day. It’s like the Neverending Story.”
Mainly financed by Latvian funds, part of the financing was also provided by Lithuania, where post-production was also carried out. The multinational cast and crew included people from the Baltic states, as well as Ukrainians and Russians. “My cameraman was from St. Petersburg because we studied together. “We were filming shortly after the Bucha massacre was discovered and my cameraman was very embarrassed and was crying and hugging the Ukrainian actors.”
Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas’ fourth feature film, “The Writer,” was directly influenced by the invasion of Ukraine. It tells the story of two Lithuanian men who meet again in New York 30 years after their military service in the Soviet army and talk about love and their own adaptation to history.
Zabarauskas tel. Variety: “Many of us in our region do not want to be associated with our Soviet past. But this war made me think that current Russian terrorism is no different from Soviet Russian terror, and that we still have many things to analyze and recognize. “I was born the same year Lithuania declared its independence in 1990. But I’m interested in reaching even younger audiences who are also trying to deal with that.”
“The Writer,” as an English-language film, attempts a different route to reaching an international audience than “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” and “My Freedom” in Russian. However, all the Baltic filmmakers Variety spoke to agreed that, aside from global audiences, it was difficult to get other Baltic nations to see their films. This was partly because – despite geographical proximity – the Baltic nations are very different. For the Latvian Kunga-Melgaile, Lithuanians are like Italians and Estonians have an absurd sense of humor “like the Finns.”
“Smoke Sauna” Estonian producer Marianne Ostrat disagrees: “We are like Brazilians.” Diversity is the key, she says, noting that Estonia is the most atheist country in the world, while Lithuania is three-quarters Catholic. The goal for Ostrat, who in addition to producing several films has now found himself orchestrating an Oscar campaign from scratch, is to find the “sweet spot” between artistic vision and the moviegoing public. However, she warns that the success of “Smoke Sauna” will not be easy to replicate: “It is celebrated here because it is deeply Estonian and flies around the world. But we also can’t make it a model so that we can now make films like that. “It’s still about the original vision with different directors.”