A quick visit to the 2023 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia
by Alex Billington
November 21, 2023
Awoooooo!! There is a lovely festival in the Baltic country of Estonia called the Tallinn Dark Nights Film Festival. Also known locally as PUFF (Which means Black Nights Film Festival in Estonian), the festival has just celebrated its 27th anniversary with a two and a half week cinematic celebration. It kicked off on November 3 and ran until November 19 in Tallinn city center, with tons of screenings and premieres every day. It’s much longer than a regular festival as they like to let the films play and give locals the chance to come and see them in the evening, with hundreds of films to choose from. There’s also a big industry event at the end of the festival, when I was in town for a visit. PÖFF took me to Tallinn this year (from Berlin) and offered me a hotel room so I could experience the festival in person. It was a great trip and I’m glad I was able to come and see other films, even if I arrived a little late and didn’t get to see as many as I was really hoping to watch. It is an overall well-organized festival, with a nice selection of the best films of the year.
For all those curious, why it is called Tallinn Dark nights The Estonian Film Festival is located far north in Europe, just across the Baltic Sea from Finland, and next to St. Petersburg, Russia. At this time of year, in the darkness of winter, there is very little light: the sun rises around 8 a.m. and sets just before 4 p.m. every day. Most screenings take place in the afternoon and evening, so most of the festival takes place during the “dark nights” of November. Although the festival is known for showing many Eastern European, Baltic and Scandinavian films, it is open to all. There’s not really a specific theme to what they play. However, my favorite thing about the Tallinn Dark Nights Film Festival is the logo – a howling wolf. Even their rewards are howling wolves. There was a gigantic bronze statue in front of the hotel that I wanted to “acquire” and put in my carry-on and take home so it could keep me company in my living room while I watch movies at home . Alas, don’t think he would get past airport security.
Most of the screenings (which I attended) take place in the large multiplex cinemas in the city center where the festival headquarters is based (at the Nordic Forum Hotel). They hold events in other Estonian cities, but the venues are not as unique as one might expect. It’s pretty much just going to a big movie theater every day to watch. Here are some of my photos from the trip – one of a cinema, the other showing a sign promoting the festival:
Tallinn Dark Nights Film Festival’s impressive 2023 selection includes new films in various competition sections (First Feature, Critics’ Picks Comp, Rebels With a Cause, Baltic Films, etc.) as well as various others Out of Competition , Critics’ Selections, Special Screenings, Gala Premieres and more. It’s a diverse and engaging line-up, there’s no doubt about that. One of my favorite Estonian films that I once watched in Sitges called The invisible fight (here’s my full review) received a major gala screening, alongside the excellent Estonian documentary film Smoking Sauna Fraternity which originally premiered at Sundance (here’s the full trailer). I highly recommend watching both. These two films are great examples of Estonia’s growing importance in cinema, but of course they have many other films to offer. During my quick 5-day trip to PÖFF, I was able to see 8 films in total. Here are my brief thoughts on these films:
Death is a problem for the living (directed by Teemu Nikki) – A superrrrrrr dark and superrrrrrr dry Finnish black comedy. Quite exhausting to watch if I may say so. Not quite my beat… It’s about two shady hearse drivers who get involved in an underground Russian roulette ring to help dispose of the dead and, yes, it gets even darker. It doesn’t quite come together, feeling a bit empty and emotionless despite the best intentions of telling this very dark buddy story. I wanted to love him more.
The G (directed by Karl R. Hearne) – Despite a fantastic lead performance from the actor Dale Dickey, I really didn’t like this movie. It’s way too dark and unsettling and just plain boring, with weird twists and turns that don’t really work. This could have been a lighter but exciting comedy (similar to I care a lot) without all the crime, gangsters and wannabes Taken atmosphere. I already want to forget this film…
All of us strangers (directed by Andrew Haigh) – A truly beautiful film about loss and grief, this is one of the best films of the year tackling these themes. Touching, tender and endearing, it’s a wonderful look at how memories can be both healing and haunting; and how memories can comfort us but also hold us back. Even though it didn’t affect me emotionally, I still admire and respect this film and everything it accomplishes with its illustrious cast – Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell and Claire Foy.
Farmers (directed by DK Welchman & Hugh Welchman) – This hand-painted sequel to Love Vincent is stunning to look at, each image is literally a spectacular painting. However, it’s so depressing to watch. A town full of mean, angry, gossip-addicted, aggressive people who torture the only good soul around. It’s hard to watch because it gets worse and worse and there’s so little hope… I don’t know why we need to tell stories like this when everything is so horrible and I can’t I don’t feel better at the end.
Close your eyes (dir. Víctor Erice) – The best of what I saw during my visit. This Spanish film premiered at Cannes earlier this year and was acclaimed by many as one of the best films of that festival. I missed it in Cannes, but caught up with it here and completely fell in love with it. A long film that is definitely worth watching. Absolutely breathtaking cinema. As rich and layered as Drive my caras moving and charming as Heavenly cinema. An instant classic. Search for this movie and watch it as soon as you can.
Pelican Blue (dir. László Csáki) – A great discovery of this festival. An animated documentary about a group of young Hungarian teenagers who figure out how to create fake train tickets and travel throughout Europe in the early 1990s, after Hungary became an independent nation (and no one had a ticket). money). It’s a simple story told so well by charismatic characters with great enthusiasm. A reminder that everyone just wants to get out and see the world and that we should all learn to embrace that desire rather than stifle it.
Falls of light (directed by Phedon Papamichael) – A solid thriller. Legit movie about tourists visiting a Greek island who get into trouble with the locals. Even though it makes me sad to see what happens to them. But well done, very well done. Minimalist but it works – striking effectively. Superb performances. I was caught up in all of this.
Don’t expect too much from the end of the world (directed by Radu Jude) – This Romanian satire is fun and captivating, while also being quite messy and boring. It’s way, way too long… I enjoyed most of it, but not all of it. Jude tries to do way too much in one movie, even though he gets good reviews with Angela and Bobita. It loses all its vigor at the end, shifting the focus when it gets really good.
It was the huge wolf statue sitting outside the HQ hotel that I wanted to take home. It’s beautiful! I have always loved wolves, I have so many stories about my obsession with wolves. There are currently around 150 to 300 wolves living in Estonia, and the grey Wolf was officially chosen as the country’s “national animal” symbol. This cute statue is also what the awards look like when filmmakers win an award at the festival. I would go to this festival as a filmmaker just to win one! As for the atmosphere of the festival itself, it’s a bit dull, to be frank… There wasn’t much energy or excitement during the screenings, the audience rarely clapped or cheered, even at the end of wonderful films. Is that how it usually happens there? Maybe this is what Estonian society is like, maybe the festival should work more on cultivating greater enthusiasm for cinema. Some of my screenings were sold out, while others were barely half full. It appears to be more of an event that locals can attend, with an industry conference on the side, although it’s hard to say if it’s worth flying to Estonia when many of these films are also shown at other film festivals across the country. world.
Nevertheless, I am happy to have made the trip to Tallinn and attended my very first PÖFF. I am thankful and grateful that the festival offered to bring me and show me what the experience in Tallinn is like. And as always, I’m happy to have had the chance to see good films. For me personally, when I go to film festivals, the movies are what matters most. No parties, no industry meetings, no red carpets, no sponsored events, none of that. I want to watch some of the best new films every year with an audience excited and interested in all the stories being told on the big screen. I want to delve into cinema and immerse myself in the living world of visual storytelling, discussing these great films and how they touch, entertain, enlighten and inspire us all. Would I recommend going to PÖFF? Only if you’re in the area, or only if you have time to go up to Tallinn to see some great films. The A-list selection is worth checking out. Other favorites including Poor things, Daaaaaali!, Past lives, The Chimera, Leftovers, The Pot au Feu, Dead leaves, Perfect days, The old oak, The promised land, The teachers’ lounge, Theater camp, and many others, also played in Tallinn this year. Either way, the most important thing is to savor all this top-notch world cinema.