Nikolaj Nikitin • Head programmer, Critics’ Picks, Tallinn Black Nights
“I believe in focused and high-quality curating with diverse representation”
- We caught up with the head programmer of PÖFF’s brand-new strand dedicated to powerful and artistically outstanding works that might otherwise be overlooked
Nikolaj Nikitin, head of SOFA School of Film Advancement and the head programmer of the new Critics’ Picks section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, chatted to Cineuropa about his new role at PÖFF. According to the festival, the section “serves to highlight and celebrate a curated selection of powerful and artistically outstanding works that might otherwise be overlooked in PÖFF’s broader programme”.
Cineuropa: Why did the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival decide to kick off the Tallinn Critics’ Picks section?
Nikolaj Nikitin: After two decades as a delegate at the Berlinale (being responsible for 35 countries in my last year), I was delighted when Tiina Lokk, the only female founding director of a so-called A-list festival, offered me the opportunity to collaborate. We quickly realised that with my 25-plus years of experience as a film critic/historian, curator and artistic director of various festivals in Germany and all over Europe – including Zurich, Prague and the Palic EFF (which Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius personally closed with his Cannes opener Final Cut [+see also:
interview: Michel Hazanavicius
film profile]) – it made the most sense to offer me the chance to curate my own section, and use my experience and global network in the most effective way possible.
What were the reasons for your choices?
I believe in focused and high-quality curating with diverse representation. Since I ran the film magazine Schnitt for 15 years – according to international critics, it’s the “German version” of Cahiers du Cinéma or Positif – it was a matter close to my heart to follow the protagonist of the Nouvelle Vague, and scout auteurship and cinematic gems not only in “classical” arthouse cinema, but also in solidly directed genre films, and even mainstream titles. I am very happy to be able to present a geographically balanced selection of diverse artists and to be at a ratio of 50/50 in terms of the participation of female creativity. As a leading A-list festival, we ideally want to show world premieres, so I started off with the plan of presenting a maximum of ten films. For example, on our opening night, we had the great honour of welcoming Cecilia Roth, an icon of Spanish-language cinema (Almodóvar's All About My Mother), together with her directors, Vera Fogwill and Diego Martínez, for the world premiere of Conversations on Hatred [+see also:
film profile]. We also hosted the German crew of Roxy [+see also:
interview: Dito Tsindsadze
film profile] and The Good Person director Eitan Anner. In the end, we had 13 films in the competition – plus three out of competition: Ulrich Seidl, Moshe Rosenthal and the late Kim-Ki-duk (mainly an Estonian production). But we still managed to show ten of them as world premieres, with others being international or Baltic premieres. As a curator, I don't want to highlight any other films, as they are all close to my heart. Geopolitically, it was very rewarding to curate outstanding titles by highly gifted directors and crews from countries that are under a lot of pressure right now – like Taiwan, the former Yugoslavia and Iran – as we support the worldwide cinema landscape.
Did you choose all of the films yourself, or did you work with a team?
My first PÖFF experience was all about amazing teamwork. Tiina and her outstanding colleagues recommended lots of fantastic films to me. The glut of world premieres and the high level of diverse representation from Europe and other parts of the planet are thanks to the high quality of the submissions and the eagle eyes of my colleagues. Let’s please also keep in mind that Tiina and her team – alongside the highly esteemed Alberto Barbara and co in Venice – lead the only A-list festival that has taken place continuously despite COVID-19, which was a tremendous and courageous effort. Of course, many want to go to Cannes, Venice or Berlin, but thanks to the dedicated work of Tiina and her team, Tallinn has firmly established itself in the top tier of the international festival circuit.
How did the audiences react to the films on offer?
The public’s response was overwhelming. We’re very proud to say that the audience is back in the cinemas in Tallinn! We are still collecting all of the data, but we can clearly state already that it was a very successful year, and lots of screenings were sold out (including my new section and especially Tiina’s main competition titles). Many premieres with on-site talent in attendance were screened in front of a full house. We all know that cinema can only be consumed together as an experience. This is our unique selling point compared to home cinema and powerful streamers. Tallinn is the biggest cultural event in the Baltics, reaching 12 million users every year. It is reported on in over 70 countries, in 6,000 articles.
What do you plan to improve for next year?
One mission for the future is to make this new section better known and more visible around the globe and within the European film community. Most of all, we want to bond more strongly with the local audience and try to get even more talent to Tallinn so that they can all personally experience PÖFF and the beauty of Black Nights.
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