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'Our animation tradition is rooted in the Soviet era. It mostly deals with existential issues'

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Estonian animation films have been around for over 80 years. Why aren't they better known?

Estonian animation is not part of mainstream culture - it has its own niche and is known mainly in festival circles. Most of our films are artistic short films that have no chance in competing for the global cinema distribution. It's not easy to find them but they have a good reputation among people who love art animation.

Are animated films popular in Estonia? What is the main market for these films?


Animated films are not very popular in Estonia;most Estonians have seen just some of the children's films that have been produced recently. Lotte, an animated feature for kids, has become one of the most popular films among local cinema audiences. However, our market is so small that even if a film is doing well at the box office, it doesn't earn back the production money. The maximum amount of viewers for animation is around 70, 000, while the entire Estonian population is 1. 3 million. Children's films have been sold to several TV channels, mainly in Europe.

These films are said to be known for their absurdity, encrypted stories and unusual plots. What are the main themes they tackle?


Our animation tradition is rooted in the Soviet era. Cinema was strictly censored at that time but animation was not considered so important and artists could express themselves there more freely. That created a unique visual language that was talking to the audience not directly but through symbols. It could thus sneak around censorship. Nowadays we live in a rather democratic state and there's no need for such hiding. But maybe as an inheritance from that period, our films still carry many layers of meanings - they are never plain and easy to understand, you can always find new meanings and hidden messages in them if you watch them twice. I can't name a common theme nowadays but I guess they mostly deal with existential issues.

How do Estonia's animation studios compare with Hollywood's ?


We can't compare two entirely different things. Hollywood is a huge industry run by profit, while our studios are state supported centres for artistic expression. They feed on different sources and, "you are what you eat".

What are the factors that led to the development and survival of these films?


Our animation has its unique language and visual style, and that makes it internationally recognisable. We can't say the same thing about our live action fiction films too often, unfortunately. So far it has been considered to have cultural value and has been supported by the film funds. Without that support we'd cease to exist. I hope as long as our films have something to say, that won't happen. The only thing that really matters is to make good films.

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