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Black Nights’ Industry Program Peps Up Film Folk

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“Being from a small country is not an obstacle but a plus because you have a story no one has heard of,” Lithuanian actor and showrunner Gabija Siurbyte (“Troll Farm”) told the TV Beats panel during this week’s Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event, hosted by the Black Nights Film Festival. It was the kind of optimism and can-do spirit that characterized the industry forum, which comprised an impressive range of industry panels, workshops and pitching sessions, as well as including a few innovations of its own.

Having shifted the schedule of the festival a week earlier – thereby avoiding Thanksgiving weekend – it has managed to attract a number of important industry figures, including producer Gale Anne Hurd (“The Terminator,” “The Walking Dead”), who gave two talks and offered inspiration from her career as well as answering questions about the role of AI and the end of the recent strikes, siding firmly with the unions and berating the execs as worse monsters as the Queen in “Aliens.”

Other guests included former Paramount exec Ari Tan, who spoke about the importance of adopting a clear strategy mindful of the endgame of distribution and profitability.

A particular emphasis was placed throughout on education and training with events taking place under the umbrella of the Discovery Campus, offering aspirant workers in film – from screenwriters to producers, cinematographers to musicians – practical advice and inspiration from the cutting edge of the industry.

AI was a dominant theme but panels, while alert to potential dangers, legal and otherwise, strove to portray the emerging technology as a tool to be adopted rather than a danger to be feared. Yet a wealth of experience was also on hand as veteran composer John Altman (“The Ruttles”) gave a talk on writing his Emmy winning score for “RKO 281” and cinematographer Philippe Ros (“Oceans”) spoke about how to negotiate the thorny issue of communication between a director of photography, director and the actors.

There were also sessions for school teachers on incorporating film education into the classroom to further film literacy. A Finnish school teacher speaking with Variety enthused about the usefulness of the courses in helping her set up an afterschool film club and the tools available. One of those tools – the European Film Factory – allows teachers and students to access films from across the continent and provides didactic materials for teachers to incorporate them into any kind of lesson. In this way, the aim is to nurture an understanding of the breadth of world cinema in young audiences.

“We are training the trainers,” the head of the Estonian Film Institute Edith Sepp told Variety. Marge Liiske, the head of industry at Black Nights, agreed: “As well as the Discovery Campus, we also have launchpads for producers. One participant of our producers program said that participating was worth four years of study.”

Some future projects received material encouragement with the Script Pool prize of €5,000 awarded to Leon Yersin’s script “What Remains.” In the Works in Progress section, “Mamifera” by Liliana Torres won the International Prize, Ignas Miskinis’ “Southern Chronicles” won the Baltic Prize and Raul and Romeo Esko’s “Two of Me” won the youth-oriented Just Film Prize. The Baltic Projects Prize of €10,000 went to Joonas Berghäll and Hannes Vartiainen for “The Elf”; the Best Pitch Award was won by Sahara Karimi and Wanda Adamik Hrycova; and the Producers Network Prize was taken by Anna Gawlita and Marta Szymanowska.

Sepp is mindful that this cadre of future filmmakers need a burgeoning industry in which to work, but is optimistic, having seen private investment increase. “They have been gradually investing additional funds to produce audience-friendly films, which has taken huge pressure away from the film institute. We can concentrate on more artistic films like ‘Invisible Fight,’ which was in Locarno this year, where the filmmaker can go crazy and come up with Kung Fu meets Orthodox Church stories.” To continue this growth, infrastructure is urgently required and plans to build a soundstage near Tallinn is set to be signed later this month.

With growth comes responsibility though and Liiske is aware that the festival and the industry generally have to bear in mind that key to their vision of the future is a commitment to sustainability: “We are measuring our footprint, and we try to ensure that food doesn’t go to waste. We encourage the use of public transport. These are kind of tiny things you might think but that’s what warms my heart.”

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