The Black Nights Film Festival was founded by programme director Tiina Lokk, long-experienced in organizing international film weeks, and representatives of Nordic film institutes. The time was ripe for an Estonian film festival and, in 1997, the first Black Nights Film Festival was held in Tallinn, Tartu and Narva.
In addition to the best Nordic films of 1996 and 1997, the Festival presented works from Germany and France - 23 films in total. Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki gave the Festival his blessing and ensured its success by providing the programme with its opening film, "Drifting Clouds". The other festival guests included Hilmar Oddsson ("Tears of Stone"), Berit Otto Nesheim, Bjørn Sundquist, Marie Theisen ("The Other Side of Sunday"), Christer Engberg ("Wild Angel") and Andrine Sæther ("Junk Mail"). The total audience for the first Black Nights Film Festival numbered 4500.
Films (selection): "Devil’s Island" (Fridrik Thór Fridriksson), "Europa, Europa" (Agniezska Holland), "Adam & Eva" (Hannes Holm, Måns Herngren), "Freaking Beautiful World" (Jarmo Lampela), "The Kingdom I-II" (Lars von Trier).
The second Black Nights Film Festival was held in Tallinn. The audience had the opportunity to see forty films previously presented at various international film festivals from Germany, France, England, Hungary, Russia, Canada, Israel and Spain. In addition, the Festival offered a film retrospective of the Swedish-Finnish producer-director Jörn Donner and special programmes included films from Hong Kong and documentaries from Israel. Guests to the Festival included Vadim Abdrashitov ("Time of a Dancer"), Pirjo Honkasalo ("Fire-Eater"), William Aldridge ("Hamilton") and Assi Dayan ("The 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum") among many others.
Two awards were introduced at the festival. Estonian Association of Film Journalists chose to give a glass pyramid by artist Ivo Lill to Danish director Thomas Vinterberg for his film "The Celebration". The audience’s choice for best film was Emir Kusturica’s film "Black Cat, White Cat" which won an antique storm lantern. The festival audience exceeded 9500.
Films (selection): "Deconstructing Harry" (Woody Allen), "Live Flesh" (Pedro Almodovar), "Of Freaks and Men" (Aleksei Balabanov), "The Sweet Hereafter" (Atom Egoyan), "A Taste of Cherry" (Abbas Kiarostami), "My Name is Joe" (Ken Loach), "Run Lola Run" (Tom Tykwer), "Little Tony" (Alex van Warmerdam), "Idiots" (Lars von Trier).
The third Black Nights Film Festival saw a breakthrough - people sat on the floor of the 1200-seat Sakala Centre big hall as there were no empty seats left. The Peter Greenaway film "Eight and a Half Women" set an Estonian film history attendance record with an audience of 1294 people at one seating. A total audience of 23 600 viewed films in Tallinn and Tartu during the week-long festival.
A rich selection of films totaled 184, of which 95 were full-length feature films. For the first time, the public was presented a ’Festival within the Festival’ – the films from animated film programme chosen by Otto Alder (Switzerland) were shown before each feature film. A separate screening was held for animation programme "The Wolf and Full Moon".
As part of feature film programme the retrospectives of Swedish director Jan Troell and German-American actress Marlene Dietrich were shown as well as special programmes "Midnight Thrill" and "Swiss Lights in Black Nights". Aki Kaurismäki’s silent film "Juha", accompanied by Anssi Tikanmäki’s film orchestra, offered the audience an unique experience.
Festival guests included Swede Jan Troell (retrospective), Jos Stelling ("No Trains, No Planes") from Holland, Catherine Breillat ("Romance") from France, South African director Ntshaveni Wa Luruli ("Chikin Biznis"), Canan Gerede ("Split") from Turkey and Russian Aleksandr Bashirov ("The Iron Heel of Oligarchy") among many others.
The audience chose Jim Jarmusch’s work "Ghost Dog: The Way of Samurai" as its favorite. Estonian Association of Film Journalists lauded Otar Iosseliani’s film "Farewell, Home Sweet Home". The Estonian animation industry acknowledged Sergei Ovtsharov’s animated film "Pharaoh" as its favorite animated film.
Films (selection): "All About My Mother" (Pedro Almodovar), "Besieged" (Bernardo Bertolucci), "Humanity" (Bruno Dumont), "eXistenZ" (David Cronenberg), "The Butcher Boy" (Neil Jordan), "The Blair Witch Project" (Daniel Myrick, Edoardo Sanchez), "Under the Sun" (Colin Nutley), "War Zone" (Tim Roth), "Ambush" (Olli Saarela), "Wonderland" (Michael Winterbottom)
The 4th Black Nights Film Festival can, without exaggeration, be described as a film party for the general public. Fully 36,800 film buffs attended the festival, 13,000 more than in 1999. Tireless film fanatics consisting mostly of students watched films for eight days straight. Most of the showings were sold out.
The festival included 196 films (118 full-length films) from 43 countries. Five films gained an audience of over 1000. This year the new German cinema, Iranian films and the work of the Danish classic filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer were highlighted. As in the previous year, BNFF included an animated film festival in which 70 of the best animated films of the world from the past two years were shown. A newcomer was Sleepwalkers’ Student Film Festival, a showcase for fresh student films held under the BNFF umbrella.
Festival guests included Swedish director Roy Andersson ("Songs from the Second Floor"), legendary Icelandic filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson ("Angels of the Universe"), Russian actress Galina Tjunina ("His Wife’s Diary"), Hungarian film director Can Togay ("One Winter Behind God’s Back"), young French actress Ludivine Sagnier ("Water Drops on Burning Rocks"), German film directors Andreas Kleinert ("Paths in the Night"), Romuald Karmakar ("Manila"), Thorsten Schmidt ("Snow on New Year’s Eve") and Veit Helmer ("Tuvalu") among others.
The audience selected Lars von Trier’s "Dancer in the Dark" as its favorite film which also attracted the largest audience. Estonian Association of Film Journalists gave its award to Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s film "The Wind Will Carry Us". The Estonian Animated Studios Award, a giant lightbulb, went to German Andreas Hykade’s animated film "Ring of Fire". The Main Sponsor’s Award, software program Movie Magic given out by NT Exchange.com, went to "Yesterday’s Engine" by Mikk Rand and Kalju Kivi.
Films (selection): "Billy Elliot" (Stephen Daldry), "Buena Vista Social Club" (Wim Wenders), "Crazy" (Hans-Christian Schmid), "101 Reykjavik” (Baltasar Kormakur), “In the Mood for Love” (Wong Kar-wai), “Princess and Warrior” (Tom Tykwer), “Sunshine” (Istvan Szabo)
This was the year of another new addition to BNFF, when the children and young people gained their own special festival – Just Film. The screenings took place parallel to the main programme in Sakala Centre. Their first guest Robert Stadlober from "Engel & Joe" by Vanessa Jopp (which ended up winning the prize for best youth film) enchanted the audience right away.
Festival’s main programme was diverse as ever, special programmes included horror films from Hammer Studios and Focus on Norway. For the first time the Animated Dreams had an official competition with the jury headed by Bill Plympton whose films were screened in a special programme. Animated Dreams also celebrated the renown work of Estonia’s own Priit Pärn with his retrospective.
The festival guests included Czech director Jan Hrebejk ("Divided We Fall") and Norwegian actor Per Christian Ellefsen ("Elling") among others.
151 films were screened to the happy eyes of 36 200 viewers in total.
This year’s audience award went straight and strong to “Amélie from Montmantre" (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) this year. Estonian Association of Film Journalists gave its award to controversial "The Piano Teacher" (Michael Haneke). The Baltic Distribution Award for the Baltic distribution of a Scandinavian film went to the distributor of tragi-comedy "Elling" (Petter Næss). The Grand Prix of Animated Dreams went to Stepan Birukov’s film "Neighbours".
Films (selection): “Intimacy” (Patrice Chéreau), “Cool and Crazy” (Knut Erik Jensen), “Secret Ballot” (Babak Payami), “Under the Sand” (François Ozon), “Italian for Beginners” (Lone Scherfig), “Requiem for a Dream” (Darren Aronofsky), "The Experiment" (Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Although this year’s festival had screenings in Tartu and Viljandi as well, significant support from the city of Tallinn and inclusion of the festival into main annual events of our capital changed BNFF in its 6th year into Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Sleepwalkers’ Student Film Festival and Just Film took place during the week before the main programme with the latter finding a perfect home in the Puppet Theatre in Tallinn old town.
The special screenings this year in main programme included Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s retrospective, New Russian Cinema and "Westerns under the Red Flag". Fridriksson arrived to present his retrospective, as did Gojko Mitić, to re-introduce the Eastern Westerns in which he starred in the 60ies. Andrei Kontshalovski ("House of Fools", Lukas Moodysson ("Lilja 4-ever"), Krzysztof Piesiewicz ("Heaven", "Silence") and Jean-Paul Davidson ("The Sweatbox") amongst other guests-filmmakers were also introducing their films to Estonian audiences.
Just Film highlighted the films based on Astrid Lindgren’s wonderful stories and hosted Tom Schilling, the leading actor in “Heart Over Head” (Michael Gutmann). Animated Dreams celebrated the 45th birthday of Nukufilm, famous Estonian puppet film company, and screened Elbert Tuganov’s retrospective.
Altogether 171 films from 48 countries were shown on 10 screens during the event with the total number of admissions up to 39 500.
Just Film’s children’s jury chose Danish “My Sister’s Kids” (Tomas Villum Jensen) to be the best film of the festival, youth jury voted "One-way Ticket to Mombasa" as their favourite. From the wide choice of excellent films in the main programme the audience chose Pedro Almadóvar’s “Talk to Her” to win the prize. Estonian Association of Film Journalists awarded the traditional glass pyramid to “The Magdalene Sisters” (Peter Mullan). The jury of Animated Dreams’ official competition decided to give the grand prix - Wooden Wolf - to Pjotr Sapegin for “Aria”.
Films (selection): “Silence” (Michal Rosa), “Heaven” (Tom Tykwer), “Nowhere in Africa” (Caroline Link), “No Man’s Land” (Danis Tanović), “Dog Days” (Michael Haneke), “Rabbit-proof Fence” (Philip Noyce), “8 Women” (François Ozon), “Walking on Water” (Tony Ayres)
The year 2003 saw Tallinn Black Nights Film festival take a big step ahead in the general quality of film showing in Tallinn with moving the majority of screenings into the only multiplex in town Coca-Cola Plaza.
Sleepwalkers’ and Just Film continued catching their own and also wider audiences in Tallinn Cinema House and Puppet Theatre. Animated Dreams evaded one hall from the multiplex for their competition and colourful special programmes of German, British and Chinese animations.
Alongside the selection of variety of films from around the world main programme introduced new Chinese and Danish cinema. A very special event was the screening of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy which topped with Koyaanisqatsi-Live! - film-concert with Philip Glass’ Ensemble, accompanied by the man himself. Other guests this year included director Amos Gitai (“Alila”), Jesper Jargil (documentaries “The Humiliated”, “The Purified”), producer Veit Heiduschka (“Time of the Wolf”) and ani animator Adam Benjamin Elliott (“Harvie Krumpet”) to name a few.
The amount of viewers grew significantly compared with previous year as 207 films gained 45 173 admissions.
The audience this year liked Finnish comedy “Upswing”, which director Johanna Vuoksenmaa had couple of years ago participated in Sleepwalkers’ SFF with her student film. Estonian Association of Film Journalists awarded Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Distant” and the Animated Dreams jury chose Robert Morgan’s chocking “Separation” to win the Grand Prix. Children’s jury voted for “The Flying Classroom” (Tomy Wigand) and youth jury for “Evil” (Mikael Håfström) respectively as best films. FICC jury was taken by “The Return” (Andrei Zvjagintsev), but mentioned specially also Chen Kaige’s “Together”.
Films (selection): “Father and Son” (Aleksander Sokurov), “Edi” (Piotr Trzaskalski), “Comandante” (Oliver Stone), "Dolls" (Takeshi Kitano), "Kitchen Stories" (Bent Hamer), "The Return" (Andrei Zvjagintsev), "Buddy" (Morten Tyldum)
The 8th BNFF introduced international competition "EurAsia" in festival’s main programme. Year of the first tiny jubilee of "Animated Dreams" brought to the “big” festival also special programmes of Dutch features and documentaries, Phantoms of the Opera from now and then, and films from Africa and Bollywood, to say nothing about the retrospective of festival’s special guest Jerzy Stuhr.
The main programme had a grand beginning with yet another film-concert - the Symphony Orchestra of Vanemuine Theatre gave a voice to 71-year-old silent film "The Phantom of the Opera" (Rupert Julian, 1925).
Festival gathered 533 films from 67 countries and the audience of over 47 000 and hosted 163 guests.
The international jury of main programme’s competition awarded Guka Omarova’s "Schizo" with Grand Prix and Marta Larralde ("León ja Olvido") as best actress. "2046" brought recognition to Tony Leung as best actor and Christopher Doyle for the excellent camerawork. Most of the other awards, amongst them the audience’s award, went to Kim Ki-duk’s "3-iron". The first ever lifetime achievement award given out in BNFF went to Kaljo Kiisk, celebrating his vast work in Estonian cinema.
Just Film gladly hosted guests from Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Youth jury voted "Elephant" (Gus Van Sant), and children’s jury "In Orange" (Joram Lürsen) as their favourite film.
Animated Dreams’ Grand Prix went for drawing animation "La Piccola Russia" (Gianluigi Toccafondo).
Films (selection): "City of God" (Fernando Meirelles), "Osama" (Siddiq Barmak), "Old Boy" (Park Chan-wook), "The Sea Inside" (Alejandro Amenábar),“ Moolaadé“ (Ousmane Sembene), "Sideways" (Alexander Payne), "Downfall" (Oliver Hirschbiegel)