Tallinn Film Festival’s Industry Strand Grows Beyond Baltic Borders

As the industry arm of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, the leading cinematic showcase for the Baltic nations, the five-day [email protected] & Baltic Event has grown into a lynchpin for conversations about the current and future state of production in the region, bringing together leading entertainment, tech and VC professionals.

This year will be no different, even as the coronavirus pandemic has forced organizers to shift to a virtual-only edition—something the forward-facing event was fully equipped to do from day one, according to industry head Marge Liiske.

Despite initial thoughts of mounting a hybrid edition, Liiske says the organizing team “decided to make it inclusive for everyone,” including those who couldn’t make the trip to Tallinn. “This really is an opportunity for different people to participate without borders,” she says.

The growing reach of the [email protected] & Baltic Event, which takes place Nov. 23-27, can be seen in program sections like the Baltic Event Co-Production Market, a forum dedicated to connecting international producers to potential co-production partners from the Baltics. This year the market includes not only projects from production powerhouses such as France and Germany, but a range of countries including Israel, the Philippines and Azerbaijan.

Recent co-production market highlights include Ivan I. Tverdovskiy’s “The Conference” (Russia, Estonia, Italy, U.K.), which was selected for this year’s Venice Days competition, and Nariman Aliev’s “Homeward” (Ukraine), which premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2019. J-P Valkenpää’s “Dogs Don’t Wear Pants” (Finland, Latvia), a Works in Progress 2018 project, premiered in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight last year.

Liiske points to the Black Nights Film Festival itself as an example of how the industry strand is evolving. “It’s young, but it’s dynamic, and it’s still growing,” she says. “And it’s the same for the industry programs. We have become much more international. Our guests [have grown by] 25% per year, adding people from countries we didn’t have before [and] adding also programs.”

This year signals a clear effort to highlight the growing importance of drama series with the expanded TV Beats Forum. Since the [email protected] & Baltic Event hosted its first drama series conference in 2017, the event has steadily grown, with a packed, two-day program of panel discussions, case studies and pitching sessions complemented by the pilot edition of a drama series co-production market.

Among the highlights will be a case study of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which shot part of its fourth season in Lithuania, and a spotlight on Ukraine’s Film.UA, the production house behind the global crime thriller “Hide and Seek.” MIDPOINT TV Launch will present nine new series from Central and Eastern Europe, while five additional projects will take part in the Script Pool TV competition.

Just as the Baltic Event Co-Production Market began with a local emphasis, Liiske says this year’s TV Beats Forum will focus on the Baltics and the wider region, including Scandinavia and focus country Russia, although future editions are likely to expand in scope. “It’s the market that decides a bit where we are going,” she says. “We try not only to follow, but also foresee.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a lingering shadow over the global film community, Liiske says platforms like the [email protected] & Baltic Event are more vital than ever to foster the continued growth of the region’s production industry. So, too, is collaboration between key players from across the board.

“I think it’s a common effort,” she says. “It’s an effort from us at the festival, from the film funds, from producers in the region. It’s the industry that seeks new ideas, new places, new locations, new thrilling partners to work with.” She adds: “It’s up to us to be prepared, and to provide a partner to back these efforts.”

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