Sound, camera, action — Estonia's cinematic legacy

Source: Ville Hyvönen / CC BY-SA 2.0 /

Sound, camera, action — Estonia's cinematic legacy

Estonia might not be a filming location you've probably heard about, but it's not because there's nothing here to capture. Four seasons and over 800 years of living history give plenty of space to play around with.

There is however a curious film legacy in Estonia. Estonia was under the Soviet Union for latter half of the 20th century and incorporated into the massive Soviet film industry. Directors, such as Andrei Tarkovsky himself, have shot some of their most legendary masterpieces between the walls of local architectural gems.

Kultuurikatel, filming location for "Stalker"

Photo by: Hans Põldoja, (CC BY 2.0)

Tarkovsky's masterpiece "Stalker", well known for its immersive atmosphere, was shot in a former power plant that is now converted into a cultural hub in the trendy Kalamaja neighbourhood. Some of the more popular filming locations in Estonia include the UNESCO featured Tallinn Old Town, a former KGB prison (Patarei) and quaint historical towns and seaside villages. In the Soviet era especially, Tallinn and its old town was a famous filming location due to its unique medieval look. But it's the Estonian nature paths that have received the most local exposure in the past year. "The Wind Sculpted Land" captures a period of three years and 400 days of filming in the wild nature of Estonia.

More recently, director Christopher Nolan shot a portion of his latest spy film Tenet in Tallinn, specifically on the roads on Tallinn. Laagna street that connects the city centre to the populous residential Lasnamäe was closed off for the shoot.

Homegrown Estonian films making a splash abroad include the likes of Tangerines, The Class and Truth and Justice. Tangerines is actually filmed in Georgia but features an Estonian lead, crew, and executive producer. It tells the story of an Estonian community in Georgia. Set during the 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia, the film explores issues of conflict, reconciliation, and pacifism.

Truth and Justice is a 2019 Estonian epic drama adapted of the first volume of Estonia's utmost literary classic, a social epic pentalogy of the same name by Estonian author A. H. Tammsaare. The film was selected as the Estonian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, making the December shortlist. It received Satellite Award for Best Foreign Language Film, making it the second Estonian film to do so after Tangerines.

The Class is an Estonian film about school violence that started a major conversation around the topic at the time. The movie received an award at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and Warsaw International Film Festival. 

The New York Times describes the popular Estonian documentary Disco and the Atomic War as "facetiously lighthearted". The film tells a story of the propaganda battles between the Soviet Union and the West through the eyes of the film director as a child.

Perhaps the most famous cinema-related figure in Estonia is the composer Arvo Pärt. His compositions have been widely used in international blockbusters such as "Foxcatcher", "There Will Be Blood", "About Time" and in Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron".

Last updated : 08.06.2020