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Cash rebate – a new boost for Estonian film industry

The Estonian Film Institute (EFI) launched a new cash rebate system at this year’s Berlinale to attract more international film productions to Estonia. According to Edith Sepp, the CEO of the EFI, Estonia is at last a front-rank country for film production.

The goal of the EFI’s support scheme, Film Estonia, is to attract new foreign filmmakers and crews to film in Estonia, thereby fostering the influx of foreign capital into the Estonian economy.

The rebate fund will refund up to 30 per cent of local production costs depending on the degree of involvement of local professionals. The highest rate of refund applies to films where the storyline takes place in Estonia itself.

During the first year of the launch the fund will repay up to
500 000 euros; the budget for 2017 is 2 million euros.

Estonia is the last of three Baltic countries to enter the cash rebate market, so what’s the advantage?

Edith Sepp explains: ‘We are offering a very non-bureaucratic system that is easy and quick. Every foreign producer can understand it, so there is no need to hire a lawyer!’ The EFI will audit the production after the costs have been made and process a rapid payment.

Lithuania has had a great experience already within the first year of the cash rebate system, with several BBC productions completed and more interest from the British film industry coming in.

Film Estonia:

The Estonian Film Institute has launched a new cash-rebate scheme – Film Estonia. The goal of the EFI’s support scheme is to attract new foreign filmmakers and crews to film in Estonia. The new fund will be open to applications from legal entities registered in Estonia whose main area of activity is the production of audiovisual works and whose partner is a foreign film production company.

Film Estonia will allocate support for the production or post-production of full-length feature films, full-length animation films, short animation films, animation series, quality television series or documentary films.

Sepp points out that Estonia’s advantage is its long tradition of film industry: ‘Estonian film is 100 years old, and even during Soviet rule we had a very successful industry. So people have a good professional experience – and what’s also important, a very good command of English. Today of course the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn focuses on new technologies and grows new talent for the industry.’

Estonians are already well-known for being somewhat tech-obsessed, and film people are no exception here. The Digital Sputnik film lighting company run by brothers Kaur and Kaspar Kallas is just one bright example of this, which has launched sophisticated new LED film lighting technology successfully with big budget international productions such as ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Independence Day’.

The new cash rebate system is applicable for the production or post-production of full-length feature films, full-length animation films, short animation films, animation series, quality television series and documentary films. The fund has established minimum limits for the budgets of projects they support – for example, a feature film must have a minimum budget of one million Euros to apply. In addition to the cash rebate there are two regional funds as well which support international productions in the Tartu and Ida-Virumaa regions.

What’s in it for Estonian film?

Edith Sepp explains: ‘The more that people have experience with international co-productions, the better it is for the Estonian cinema as well – we can raise the level of our national cinema. Work keeps people competitive and keeps the national cinema alive.’

Doubtless the recent success of two Estonian co-productions has given a boost to the whole industry.

‘Tangerines’ made it to the final five nominees of both Golden Globes and Oscars in 2015. Sepp says this was just a case of being at the right place at the right time.

‘Previously we always selected a local highly artistic film to run for Oscars,’ she says. ‘This time we thought about which topic could matter for the whole world. Usually we just submitted the film and left it alone; this time we did a marketing campaign and hired an agent in the US. It was a fair amount of legwork, and for the first time we actually sent the producer to the US for two months to meet academy members. The producers were then able to explain the geographic and historical context and people started to understand the story. Global political development kept the topic very up to date as well. The major drawback was, however, that we didn’t have a distributor in the US before the Oscars.’

Estonian filmmakers have learned a lot from this experience. As Sepp puts it, it was nothing less than a jump from the 19th century to the 21st.

‘The Fencer’ – a co-production from Finland, Estonia and Germany reached the five finalists of the Golden Globes in 2015. This is also a great breakthrough for Finnish cinema, and having gone through the process last year Estonian producers could share their experience.

Coming up – to celebrate the centennial of the Estonian Republic in 2018, the government has given grants and funding to five films at a level never seen before in this country. Hopes are running high for all these productions, specifically that they will reach the competition programs in both Berlinale and Cannes.

Some examples of co-production movies filmed in Estonia:

The Poll Diaries (2010)
Estonian-German-Austrian co-production
Director: Chris Kraus
Producers: Alexandra and Meike Kordes,
Riina Sildos, and Danny Krausz
Production companies: Kordes&Kordes GMBH, Dor Film, and Amrion OÜ

Set in the early 20th century, ‘The Poll Diaries’ paints a unique picture of a Baltic German estate in Estonia on the crossroads of the German Empire and Tsarist Russia. The haunting manor house, seemingly floating on stilts above the sea, period decorations, sensitive camerawork and film music succeed in creating an enchanting world on the verge of collapse.

The set decorations were constructed in Matsiranna, near Varbla. The location had a long boat dock which linked the estate with the sea and which was built specially for the movie.

King of Devil’s Island (2010)
Norwegian-French-Polish-Swedish co-production
Director: Marius Holst
Producer: Karin Julsrud,
Estonian production manager Pille Rünk
Production companies: Opus Film, and Allfilm

In the beginning of the 20th century there was a youth prison on the Bastoy island near Oslo, where socially outcast boys lived under the sadistic regime of prison guards. Instead of receiving an education, the 11-18 year old boys were forced to carry out hard labour and had no option but to adjust to the inhumane conditions. A new inmate leads the boys in a violent riot. How far is he willing to go in the name of freedom?

The filming mostly took place in Estonia, at the Kalvi manor house and other locations in Viru county

1944 (2015)
Estonian-Finnish co-production
Director: Elmo Nüganen
Producers: Kristian Taska, Maria Avdjushko,
and Ilkka Y.L. Matila
Production companies: Taska Film and
MRP Matila Röhr Productions

The film deals with the World War II events in Estonia in 1944. We see the war through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who were forced to pick sides and fight on both sides in the conflict, either the German Army or the Red Army, sometimes killing fellow countrymen in the process. Choices must be made not only by the soldiers, but also by those close to them.

The filming took place at the Tapa Military Polygon, in Valga and in Tallinn.

Estonian films in 2015:

  • 7 new full length feature films
  • 1.4-million-euro box office from Estonian films
  • 350,000 viewers in Estonia. Estonians go to the cinema on average 2.6 times annually – one of the highest percentages in Europe
  • Average ticket price 5 euros
  • Total box office 15.5 million euros

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