TALLINN - Estonian film buffs are eagerly pouring over programs and picking their picks for this year's Black Nights Film Festival, a colossal event designed to fill these long, bleak winter nights with some of the world's most captivating cinema. The festival, which runs from Nov. 24 to Dec. 11, presents about 450 films (including 193 full-length features) from 60 countries to be shown on screens in Tallinn, Tartu, Viljandi and Narva.
The event warms up with three sub-festivals: "Animated Dreams," a competition of short animated films (Nov. 24 's 27), the children and youth film festival "Just Film" (Nov. 26 's Dec. 3) and the Sleepwalkers Student Film Festival (Nov. 27 's Dec. 2).
Most eyes, however, will be on the festival's main program (Dec. 1 's 11). French film icon Carl Dreyer's silent classic "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), accompanied by the music of French composer Hector Zazou, will star at the Dec. 2 opening ceremony in Tallinn's Sakala Centre. From there on, a full menu of renowned world features, most with English subtitles, will follow. These include everything from Fernando Meirelles' international hit "The Constant Gardener" (2005) to "U-CARMEN eKHAYELITSHA" (2005), an adaptation of Bizet's opera set in the dust and desperation of a South African township.
Special programs in the festival include a tribute to American director Gus Van Sant, whose many accomplishments include "Good Will Hunting" (1997) and the Palme d'Or-winning "Elephant" (2003). His latest work, "Last Days" (2005), echoes the Kurt Cobain tragedy as it follows the final hours of a fictitious, suicidal musician in the milieu of the Seattle rock scene. The movie was already shown in Riga's Baltic Pearl International Film Festival earlier this fall and was an instant hit.
Another program focusing on Canadian film presents Jean-Marc Vallee's "C.R.A.Z.Y" (2005), which won an award for Best Canadian Feature at this year's Toronto Film Festival. Set in the Bowie and Pink Floyd 1970s, it is the story of a father and son coming to terms with the son's homosexuality.
And as always, there's a touch of the past: Cold War classics banned in Soviet days will be highlighted in a series called "Extra Forbidden." Films like "Animal Farm" (1954), the animated adaptation of Orwell's satire on Stalinism, and the harrowing "Interrogation" (1982), the story of the seemingly arbitrary imprisonment and torture of a cabaret singer in Poland, expose the darkest facets of the communist system.
The Black Nights festival ends with a gala awards ceremony in which a grand prix will be announced in the "Eurasia" film category and the Estonian film category, with 10,000 euros going to the grand prix winner. If you're prone to seasonal affective disorder, at least you can escape to the silver screen's warm glow for a few weeks. It's only after Black Nights ends, that Estonia's black nights begin. o
Black Nights Film Festival
Nov. 24 's Dec. 11
For more info: www.poff.ee.