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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 Competition

Peeter Simm • Director of On the Water

“Children helped and complemented each other with surprising professionalism”


- We spoke to veteran Estonian filmmaker Peeter Simm, who presented his new coming-of-age dramedy On the Water in Tallinn

Peeter Simm • Director of On the Water
Director Peeter Simm on the set of On the Water

We had a chat with Peeter Simm about his latest feature, the coming-of-age dramedy On the Water [+see also:
film review
interview: Peeter Simm
film profile
, presented at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s main competition. Produced by Tallinn-based studio Filmivabrik, the story is based on Olavi Ruitlane’s book of the same name and revolves around the adventures and misfortunes of a mild-mannered teen called Andres (Rasmus Ermel), growing up under the guidance of his caring grandmother (Maria Klenskaja) and his cynical grandfather (Kalju Orro) in 1982’s rural Soviet Estonia.

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Cineuropa: When did you start working on the film?
Peeter Simm: I was offered the possibility to join On the Water’s team about three years ago. For me, the decision was made difficult by the lack of habitual dramaturgy and the large number of characters involved. I took some time to think about it, read both the script and the novel. We made quite significant cuts, but we agreed with the producers not to forbid improvisations during the filming phase. And then we had a deal!

How did the collaboration with Olavi Ruitlane [author of the original novel and the film’s screenwriter] go?
I have worked with authors of literary works in the past, and it is one of my principles to spare each other’s nerves. Fortunately, Olavi Ruitlane and I knew each other before and our views coincided. I know how vague a word is and how specific a picture is. At the moment, I am very glad that Olavi is satisfied with the result.

How did you cast the young lead, Rasmus Ermel?
The start of filming was delayed by more than a year. In hindsight, it was useful for the film. We found interesting shots and polished the story. We found the main location where, after removing a parked car, the year 1982 was pretty much present. In the middle of the yard was a large raised ship. We had no idea that this place was only a few hundred meters from the former residence of Ruitlane. So there were all of the prerequisites needed for the materialisation of his memories. Speaking about the cast… Unfortunately, our initially chosen child actor grew out of age, and so he ended up playing the role of the antagonist, Peter. While watching the videos of the old casting, we noticed a boy who had seemed too small for us a year and a half ago. It was Rasmus Ermel.

It’s often difficult to effectively direct children on set, but you did a great job here. How did you work with Rasmus Ermel and Aurora Künnapas [the actress playing Ermel’s first crush] on set?
In films, children are either very good or very bad. Therefore, the most important thing for me was that the children had to follow only one main task throughout the scene, so that they could enrich it with coherent personal reactions. It was lucky that both Rasmus and Aurora were from families of artists and had both been on stage a few times already. Rasmus did not want to hear anything about the film at first because he thought that the whole text, like in theatre, should be memorised at once. I must say that both children helped and complemented each other with surprising professionalism.

What type of cinema inspired you?
I was encouraged by youth films that Estonians like, and these often have romantic backgrounds. I was comforted by the fact that the main characters do not necessarily have to be heroes or experience a predetermined destiny,  while defying or encountering death or triumph. I imagined that we were filming a road movie where the course on the topographic axis had to be replaced by the course of time.

Any new film endeavours in sight?
Together with the same team, we are planning to make a film about a lost nation, namely the Baltic Germans who lived next to our ancestors in Estonia for centuries. In this case, the basis is indeed theatrical material. It has been maturing in our heads for some time and now we’re realising that maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be starkly tragic — it could even be mildly comical!

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