Seeing out its 23rd edition as the snow gently fell outside of Tallinn’s Russian Theatre, the Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) yesterday crowned Anshul Chauhan’s Japanese father and daughter tale Kontora (pictured above) as the Grand Prix winner, with the Best Director award going to Filippino filmmaker Jun Robles Jana for Kalel (15), a portrait of a 15-year-old teen in Manila.
A film festival that openly embraces its wintry setting, Black Nights has over the years built up a sturdy reputation as one of the best, most eclectic events of its kind across the Baltic states. While its official competition may lack established names, the melting pot of first-time filmmakers, avant-garde ecocentrism and challenging shorts proves more than enough to draw an inquisitive, engaged audience from far and wide.
Embracing Tallinn’s rich cinema history, international delegates were invited to join the festival on a trip to key sites around the city. These included the majestic, brutalist concrete Linnahall (pictured below – soon to be seen in Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated espionage thriller Tenet) as well as several iconic locations from Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which was shot in and around the Estonian capital. Tarkovsky still holds a special place in the hearts of many Tallinners, leading to sold-out screenings of a new documentary on the director – Andrey Tarkovsky. A Cinema Prayer – at this year’s festival.
A Cinema Prayer wasn’t the only non-fiction offering to catch the eye. Several likely contenders for next year’s Best Documentary Oscar were in attendance at Black Nights, including Lauren Greenfield’s The Kingmaker, a portrait of the former First Lady of the Philipines Imelda Marcos, Georgian beekeeping marvel Honeyland and National Geographic’s The Cave, Syrian director Feras Fayyad’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo. Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s One Child Nation also offered a sobering rebuttal of China’s ruthless one-child policy (1979–2015), though it did perhaps lack the rebellious spark of Wang’s prior film, Hooligan Sparrow.
Slightly closer to home were two documentaries from the Baltics: Mark Soosaar’s sweet-natured Kids of Kihnu (Estonia) and Iiris Härmä’s Who Made You? (Finland). While markedly different in terms of subject matter – the former is an ode to the traditionalist inhabitants of Kihnu Island, the latter a clear-eyed investigation of new AI technology – both docs placed children firmly at their cores. Kai, the 9-year-old star of Kids of Kihnu (pictured below), is a young girl torn between her love for her island home and her evergrowing awareness that she will need to leave in order to find her own way in the world.
Throughout Who Made You?, meanwhile, an android is questioned by a handful of inquisitive children (“Do you have friends?”, “Can you draw?”), while robots are referred to by one key contributor as the “children of humanity”. However, as with most technological innovations, humankind’s insatiable need for gratification – particularly sexual gratification – leads a handful of engineers in a quest to create the perfect android sex partner, complete with dirty talk and erogenous sensors.
In terms of fiction filmmaking, the aforementioned Kontora was a festival highlight for many, picking up the award for Best Music for Yuma Koda’s first feature score alongside the Grand Prix. Also drawing significant acclaim was Gregor Bozic’s TIFF graduate Stories from the Chestnut Woods. Gregor Bozic’s film, set in a forest on the Yugoslavia-Italy border in the years after World War II, sees an aged carpenter and a young chestnut seller sharing each other’s memories in a touching homage to a lost way of life.
Iranian director Narges Abyar, who won the Official Selection’s Best Director award in 2016 for her the film Breath, received the festival’s Audience Award for Official Selection entry When the Moon was Full, closely beating two other audience favourites – Golden Voices and Fiela’s Child. Director Wayne Wang’s Coming Home Again received the Best Cinematographer award for its DOP Richard Wong.
Adding to these PÖFF winners was an array of critically acclaimed films from many of Europe’s other top-tier festivals – including Taika Waititi’s Nazi “comedy” Jojo Rabbit, Terrence Malick’s sublime A Hidden Life, Pablo Larrain’s reggaeton melodrama Ema, Sarah Gavron’s honest, raw teen drama Rocks and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Cannes opener The Truth – in the crowd-pleasing Signatures section.
For a full list of PÖFF award winners, please see below:
Official Selection Competition
Grand Prix for the Best Film
Director and producer: Anshul Chauhan
Award for Best Director
KALEL (15) (Philippines)
Director: Jun Robles Jana
Award for Best Script
GOLDEN VOICES (Israel)
Scriptwriters: Evgeny Ruman, Ziv Berkovich
Award for Best Actress
Film: Gipsy Queen (Germany)
Award for Best Actor
Film: Muscle (Great Britain)
Award for Best Cinematographer
Film: Coming Home Again (USA-South Korea)
Award for Best Music
Film: Kontora (Japan)
First Feature Competition
STORIES FROM THE CHESTNUT WOODS (Zgodbe iz kostanjevih gozdov, Slovenia-Italy)
Director: Gregor Bozic, producer: Marina Gumzi
Special Jury Prize
THE SEEKER (O Buscador, Brazil)
Director: Bernardo Barretto, producer: Bernardo Barreto, Mario Patrocinio
Special Jury Prize
THE NAMES OF THE FLOWERS (Los Nombres de las Flores, Bolivia-Qatar-Canada)
Director: Bahman Tavoosi, producer: Aonan Yang, Andreas Mendritzki
Award for Best Baltic Feature Film
Director: Tomas Vengris
Rebel with a Cause Award
Director Yunxing Nie, producers Li Keqi, Qiu Jiamin, Guan Feiyu
Rebels With Their Shorts Award
THE SILENCE OF THE DYING FISH (France)
Director Vasilis Kekatos S, producers Guillaume Dreyfus, Eleni Kossyfidou, Delphine Schmit
WHEN THE MOON WAS FULL (Shabi Ke Maah Kamel Shod, Iran)
Director: Narges Abyar
FIPRESCI Award presented by International Federation of Film Critics
Director: Rene Pannevis
NETPAC Award for Best Asian film presented by Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema
GOLDEN VOICES (Israel)
Director: Evgeny Ruman
Estonian Ecumenical Jury Prize
GIPSY QUEEN (Germany)
Director: Hüseyin Tabak
Lifetime Achievement Award
Children’s and Youth Film Festival Grand Prix
BOYZ IN THE WOOD
Director: Ninian Doff
European Children’s Film Association Award
Director: Frederike Migom
For more information on the 2019 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, please go to poff.ee.