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FESTIVALS Estonia

Frights and fantasies come to Haapsalu

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- Cineuropa takes a look at a neglected genre in the Baltics, as the Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival celebrates Estonian films

Frights and fantasies come to Haapsalu

As Estonia celebrates 100 years of its film industry in 2012, audiences can look forward to plenty of classics, from the very first Estonian film - Karujaht Pärnumaal (Bear Hunt in Pärnu County - 1912) to Autumn Ball [+see also:
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(2007), which was recently voted as the best Estonian film of all time. But those looking for genre films will find their search much more difficult. As with many countries with a relatively small film industry, sci-fi, fantasy and horror are not well represented.

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HõFF, the 7th Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival which takes place in the small Estonian city between April 24-27, will highlight the ‘lost’ cult films of Estonian cinema history, with screenings including Soviet/Estonian/Polish cult classic The Curse of the Valley of Snakes (1987) by Marek Piestrak (who also worked as Roman Polanski’s assistant on Rosemary’s Baby) and Raul Tammet’s The Wedding Picture (1980).

Cineuropa spoke to HõFF Executive Director Maria Reinup to find out more about the history of Estonian genre cinema and why the festival is showcasing it.

“One would think that after the political struggles of this country that genre film would have more of a significant role to play. After all, many US filmmakers used sci-fi and horror films to explore the cold war, the fear of the arms race etc. But, while the horror film The Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1978) is an undisputed and acknowledged classic, Estonian filmmakers have never really taken the genre to heart. But HõFF wants to remind people that – while genre films are currently a small part of Estonian film history – they’re still an important part and audiences will get a chance to see some rarities.”

Reinup also points out that new filmmakers in the country are being inspired to create new genre films as the festival screens four new genre shorts from the local Baltic Film and Media School. She added: “Estonian cinema is sometimes in the shadow of Scandinavian cinema but is now slowly stepping out of the restraints of art-house and drama, as a new generation of filmmakers are seeing films like District 9 (2009) and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale [+see also:
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interview: Jalmari Helander
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(2010) - comparatively low-budget films that have originated in countries not typically known for their genre fare.

"It shows you don’t have to make a Hollywood summer blockbuster to create a genre piece. Estonia is the perfect place to make genre films – after all, it’s known for its myths and legends - and whilst domestic genre film is not big yet, but there is something in the air and hopefully this will change soon."

Aside from the focus on Estonian Genre cinema, this year’s HÕFF will also screen such films as the festival's opener Norwegian detective comedy Jackpot (2011), Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight [+see also:
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(2011) and Britsh horror Inbred (2011) alongside classics such as Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and Robocop (1987). There’ll also be a focus on modern ‘B’ movies, and cult director Bill Rebane will be a special guest.

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