Lauri Leet on the brand new Estonian Film Museum: Perfect filmmaking and hideously beautiful prosthesis

The red carpet look-a-like path in front of the entrance of the Film Museum leads the visitor to the museum, which works like a workshop. It is obviously an impossible task to capture the art of filmmaking at its entire depth with one museum visit, but it definitely offers some exciting discoveries.

I let the permanent exhibition „Take One” to lead me to a step-by-step journey through the birth of film and I’m happy that I’m allowed to be a direct participant in so many things. I can look at how the animations are made, change the soundtracks of Estonian films, for example, by placing „Nipernaadi’s” famous „Rändaja õhtulaul” (Traveler’s Evening Song) to the animated film „Naksitrallid” (which, by the way, works pretty well. At the same time, it is a refreshing reminder that Sven Grünberg’s music in „Naksitrallid” is a surprisingly naturally flowing prog rock, which in turn works well as the background sound of all the other movie pieces offered). Pretty exciting is the opportunity offered at the green studio, which allows you to place yourself into an animation or a historical photo and the resulting view appears on the screen quite authentically. It is rather funny to see how, for example, on the photo taken at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the fourth „great statesman”, a visitor to a museum from Tallinn in 2017, will appear.

In general, the museum is rather informative in shedding light on the technical aspects of film production. While at the beginning of the exhibition I feel a bit confused in the middle of all the detailed information; then, after some time the texts presented by an actor Sergo Vares work more and more convincingly,  and at one point the terms like „focal length”, „overexposure”, „light temperature”, „close-up”, „medium close-up”, „zoom in” sound already so enchanting that I would like to nod and ask for the camera – stop talking and let’s shoot a movie! True, difficulties may arise when one takes too seriously the glamorous world of film distribution and marketing presented at the final part of the exhibition; falling from the level of blockbusters and theatrically distributed movies to the reality of the auteur films may be too painful for the overly excited filmmaking enthusiast. The gap between the auteur and blockbuster films is manifested perhaps the most clearly in the distribution and marketing of films, and while this information is gathered to a single museum, the overall picture is inevitably incomplete from one aspect or another, in which, of course, the museum’s curators and organizers cannot be blamed.

One of the wittiest exhibits at the museum is an exhibition created by Andres Maimik. If you answer the ringing phone you can get a clue of the external pressures of the Estonian filmmakers in the 50’s, 80’s and during the turn of the century. How have the nature of ideological pressure, and the content, intensity and rhetoric of that nature been changed over time: while at the Stalinist country, the censorship worked as a vituperation, then three decades later it became much more mild in its form, the wording was more refined, more tricky, but also slightly comic, and how „the winds of freedom” have put the screenwriter up against the different but essentially similar pressure of capitalism and financial world.

All this makes one think: the concept of the film museum as a whole is to present one story of the perfect filmmaking – how the screenwriter has a good idea, how it is written into a decent scenario, the director is, of course, practical and professional, the actors are well-chosen, the shooting goes well because the arrangements are well done, countless assistants and advisers have done everything, the lighting specialist is on a high level, the editor and the director are thinking alike, etc.

But in life, as in movie making, man plans and god laughs. The filmmakers have given the public a glimpse of how, in the course of making one full-length feature film, it happens that they are not able to get the requisites in due time or that they must fight like lions for the financing and still lose it, the sudden change of the weather ruins the shooting day, and a good scenario must be truncated because of the lack of money or other unimaginative reason. And one, but not a small one, of all these obstacles is the socio-political and ideological situation in the society surrounding the field of filmmaking. A filmmaker cannot ignore it; it is over and around them like the mist and darkness of November, and everyone must find their own way out of it as successfully as the spirit and purposeful wisdom allows.

At the exhibition, it can be noticed that film is dealing with both beautiful and ugly. At the same time, all the ugly things in a good movie change into something beautiful through some miracle. Even if something makes you cry or cringe, it’s poetic. The transformed, somewhat „pure forms” of sadness and anger born from the real sadness and the real anger always work in the film as a distillation of life and the world and therefore becomes a kind of alibi.

I am talking about one of the exhibits, the drug crook’s Olari’s dental prosthesis from the movie „I Was Here”. The yellowish-brown false teeth are just hideous as a single object, but thinking about Tambet Tuisk’s absolutely unpleasant character in the film, the prosthesis become twice as much abhorrent, but their film context frees the prosthesis and also the Tuisk’s character from the responsibility in front of the real life, because these nasty objects are not „real”, it was just a movie and this statement will bring the man and his dental problems out from the chain of condemnation that would come up automatically. And if I also think about the cassette containing smooth Caucasian music and eye-protecting goggles, which Lembit Ulfsak’s truly pleasant character wore in „Tangerins”, I’ll understand even more clearly that the film is something much more than just storytelling with moving pictures.