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Black Nights Film Festival: Interview with Sten-Kristian Saluveer

Black Nights Film Festival: Interview with Sten-Kristian Saluveer

The Baltic Event is twelve years old. Can you talk about the creation of the industry platform as part of the Black Nights Film Festival four years ago
and the reasons behind it?

Sten-Kristian Saluveer:
Sure! The Baltic Event was created at that time to strengthen this region as well as a to create sense of collaboration, community and coproduction between
places like Germany, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia. What we then started to see — already in 2010 and 2011– was that the audiovisual landscape –
not only in this region but also in the whole world – was changing so much that it wasn’t really enough.

Of course, there was an oversaturation of markets; films were being made and projects were happening but we kind of felt that we needed to refresh it all
and look at different territories, different collaborators, different sources of information and knowledge. What also happened is the territories we
specifically had in mind – America and Asia – were starting to look at Europe and this was the time when these interesting collaborations between North
American independents and Europe started happening: television started to kick off with “Game of Thrones”, “Hannibal” and other series that were being shot
in Europe.

Moreover, many Asian productions started coming to Europe so we realized there was a kind of feasible collaboration and possibility between two things.
Simultaneously, big changes were also going on in the Estonian market as well. We actually started in 2010 as a kind of forum for a change of film policy
and I remember very well that our first panel that year was “What should small countries do to break through to big business?” This year, we really
achieved this great balance. The Baltic Event’s aim is still to develop this sort of regional collaboration and regional competitiveness but the industry
platform sort of snaps on to it like a Lego piece: we open up new territories, bring other collaborators and slot in some crazy ideas and collaborations. I
think it’s a very, very unique mix that gives it a more cosmopolitan ambiance, so to speak.

The motivation is still the same, right?

S.-K. S.:
Of course…

To be bigger and better?

I think it’s not really the question of getting bigger because bigger is not necessary better… Something that is very unique about Tallinn is that it’s
exactly the right size and it has almost exactly the right people. The most important thing that sometimes gets lost in the festival business and the film
market business is the kind of benefit you are providing to the film industry. You know that you can invite 200 people and if every person leaves from here
with a deal, a new contact, a new business opportunity, or something else, then this matters. We are not only progressing on very important topics for
filmmakers right now, but we are also trying to get the right mix of people, and so we work very closely on whom to invite, what kind of people… So, the
idea for me really is to have more quality people coming in, you know, more people who are interested in the region, people who are interested in overseas
collaboration and who try to influence a little bit, say, the public funding and government mechanisms to invest in this area.

I am very happy to say that we are already in a position that we can pretty much invite anybody and, this year, we had big Hollywood executives coming in,
going to see Estonian locations, market directors, A-class festival programmers… So, it’s great!

Has it fulfilled your expectations so far? Can you give us some numbers and tell us what deals have been made?

S.-K. S.:
We’re just putting it together… There have been deals… I want to talk separately about something that we started this year: a pilot project, called the
European Genre Forum. This is basically a creative campus for young genre film professionals and it gathers directors, producers, postproduction people,
composers, sound designers, etc. When we started that, the idea was that we were going to flip the coproduction market like a model upside down because I
think a) there are too many coproduction markets and b) there’s not enough money anywhere and I think especially for young – and I mean those who have made
up to three completed feature films. Using a coproduction market model creates a wrong expectation so we figured out that if we bring a lot of talented
people together from different areas of filmmaking maybe they will not work on these projects that they bring along but maybe they will start working on
something else and there is a fine possibility of making stuff happen.

I think it’s a very novel idea and, of course, it’s a pilot year… We are doing it together with the Helsinki Night Visions Film Festival, the Zagreb
Fantastic Film Festival, and Screen Division in Paris. It’s specifically European. Of course, we are a little bit worried about how it will turn out, what
the quality of the projects is, but the public pitching session was absolutely fabulous! It was full house with a hundred producers and sales agents who
have been listening carefully. Lionsgate has been having meetings, Gaumont has been having fruitful meetings too… Other sales agents as well… Also, for
example, the Frontières International Coproduction Market has shown interest in certain projects as well so I would say that it has been a tremendous

And, will you continue it next year?

S.-K. S.:
Of course… We will have a next big announcement in Berlin, and then we will have satellite events in Helsinki and Zagreb also coming up in spring and in
the middle of the summer. For next year, we will be fine tuning the model and there are a couple of really, really great ideas but I think it will still be
the same structure of getting the people here, teaching them how to develop and pitch their projects. But, we also had script doctoring and we put these
projects in touch with sales agents. We had very interesting panels and many friends (sales agents) say that nowadays they are not very interested in
projects but in cultivating long-term relationships with directors and this is exactly what we are doing: bringing people in very, very early stages of
development so that they can foster these relationships and develop the projects together.

Do you plan to include the U.S. or your aim is to only remain European?

S.-K. S.:
Of course… What we will do is definitely increase the U.S. part as well in an independent sector because this is where the market is, where the money is.
There are companies specifically XYZ or IFC or even Radius and Magnolia that are interested in investing and distributing these films. So, what we are
definitely going to do is that we will be increasing the percentage of attending sales agents and buyers coming to Tallinn. Apart from the Genre Forum, we
are developing Tallinn as a kind of presale platform for the Berlinale because people already have a clear of idea what the line-ups will be; they will be
able to see the coming-soons, doing yearly slates and that would take a lot of stress out of Berlin as well.

Do you think the Industry@Tallinn is indispensable for the growth and development of the Baltic Film Industry and by extension, the international film

S.-K. S.:
Yeah, absolutely… This year, we got into the club of A-list festivals and the reason why we were actually accepted in that category was that each large
territory in the world basically has one festival that kind of operates as a gateway. What we do through the festival is bring more projects, more work to
the local filmmakers and help them connect with the international circuit. That’s exactly the reason why we’re doing the International Film Festival
Confab. In Estonia, Serbia and any of these regions, not many filmmakers have a great connection with Cannes or Venice and programmers.

Ultimately, you
have to have a great film but it’s also about creating a relationship with the festival and since people don’t have much of that knowledge, what we do is
that we actually bring these programmers here so they can be able to say “Oh! I want to send my film to Locarno” – ” Please go see there’s this person“. And it is, you know, important to have a healthy life for the film – that’s why you have to develop these
relationships – and Tallinn is precisely the place where we help foster these relationships for filmmakers and film institutions. We also work with our
government and regional film organizations as well to really develop a competitiveness and kind of uniqueness of this region…

In that sense, how involved are the Estonian Film Institute and the Baltic Film and Media School in the industry part of the festival?

S.-K. S.:
We have a fantastic collaboration with the Baltic Film and Media School. Our Sleepwalkers Student and Short Film Festival is now part of the Baltic Film
and Media School. We also have a fantastic collaboration with the Estonian Film Institute. So, of course, when we are planning our program we are
communicating with them quite closely to see what their needs are. I think the history, especially in the post Soviet countries, in terms of the
relationship between the filmmaking community and the government and the financing institutions, has been a rather rocky road but, in the end of the day,
everybody’s in the same boat. Also, every year, we discuss with them what is the most pressing topic. For instance, next year, Estonia will probably be
building a big regional sound stage and a studio and the Film Institute and the film communities will be involved. So, what we did in relation to that was
to dedicate a panel on how sound stages operate; we brought in foreign experts on that not only to do a panel but also to meet the local people. We always
look at how we can provide benefits for everybody.

What is your stand on the Baltic film industry? What are its weakest and strongest points?

S.-K. S.:
I think that – but this is strictly my opinion – the weakest point is that our film industry is very fragmented. It’s not really about the size because in
Iceland there are 300.000 people and Iceland is producing all these big Hollywood films; Interstellar was shot there, and they have nature as
their advantage but also it’s the point where there’s a certain coherence in the film community. Like I said, I think that the issue in the Baltic is that
it’s very, very fragmented and the industries in each of the respective countries are very fragmented and as a whole we are also very fragmented so that
has also prevented a very clear communication from the government side. Indeed, everybody likes to complain that the government doesn’t give enough money
but the government also has to meet some goals and I perfectly understand that governments don’t want to deal with a group of angry people who can’t form
consensus, right?

I think it’s not really the lack of money because, you know, the lack of money can also be compensated for by some clever policies. I believe the
coherence and the communication within the film industry have to be clearer and more uniform and people have to understand that support systems are not
like social security. It’s slowly changing and things are getting better but we are somewhere in-between a generational shift, not in terms of age maybe,
but primarily in terms of a certain mindset; there are positive signs surfacing and especially now with this whole idea of Creative Europe, people have to
think outside the box again. I mean, at least we’re trying to create this sense of excitement and potential…

What are your aims and focuses for the future? Where do you see it going in long and short terms?

S.-K. S.:
We are being involved in collaborations with several exciting markets like Latin America and Asia as well and we’re preparing a few audience development
projects and exchanges where we will be introducing European films to Latin American territories and vice-versa. With Asia, we also have some plans in the
pipeline. We are also leaning toward audience development and trying to find ways to engage more audiences in film, specifically children, youth and
disabled communities, because we’re participating in a few pilot projects that could revolutionize the way children have access to cinema so this is
something that we will be pushing quite a lot. The second direction we’re going in is that we are going to have a closer connection with the sales
community and try to understand what their needs are and how we can give them more benefits and get more films out to the market. It’s a bit like a
reciprocal relationship.

The festival has always been focused on films with a very clear author’s voice; I’m not saying that these are primarily art films
or hard to watch films but also commercial films which express the very clear vision of the author. It’s more how we can bring more exposure to the
filmmakers and again have more films made. I think that would be a great challenge and Estonia has a very, very small market so we’re not really operating
locally but regionally. Of course, the big challenge is how we will take this European Genre Forum and how we will make it more beneficial, more concise
and have good projects and good talent coming out of here. If more films are made, we’re very happy…

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