Well, we were talking about the Finno-Ugric worldview and saying that the best place for film festivals and seminars, at least on the topic of Finno-Ugric films, is the countryside… And especially in summer it is good. But you need quite a lot of money to come to Estonia from different republics and regions of Russia. Maybe it would be easier to organise this event in Russian territory, so if the festival is mostly focused on Finno-Ugric minorities – Udmurts, Hantis, Moksha, Erzya – they would not need to apply for visas, prepare all these documents, which sometimes takes a long time. Why don’t you organise this festival in Russia?
Actually we thought that it would be a travelling festival, and that we would show films in different places. For now we have plans to show them in Hungary. Because two Hungarian towns – Veszprém and Iszkaszentgyörgy – are the Cultural capitals of the Finno-Ugric world this year, their representatives invited us when they got to know about the festival. Soon we plan show all films, or a selection of them, to Veszprém. So there would be a Hungarian edition of FUFF. I don’t see any problem to have an edition in Russia, but I have to have a person who will organise this, to help us go there. I can get all the films – we have the films, we have the rights to show them. So, basically it could be possible if somebody would call me and say “wow! Come to Yoshkar-Ola…” or wherever “and let’s do a two- or three-day film festival”. That is also possible. Nobody asked me yet.
And also, speaking about the workshop on making Udmurtian Film, it was in Estonia although there had been plans to do it in Udmurtia before. Was the reason that it would be easier to find good equipment here, and you don’t have as many contacts with filmmakers in Russia to organise it, to find all the necessary things like equipment for filmmaking there?
Hm-m… not only that… Actually I don’t know what happened, because the Ministry of Culture in Udmurtia wanted to support us in the beginning. And we were going to come. But then something happened, probably the Ukrainian war effected our coming or… So, we had to cancel. The equipment is not the biggest problem. We can take it with us, rent equipment from Estonia. And these professionals, workshop tutors, etc., would help and go anywhere for a good reason like that. Maybe it would be more difficult to organise the shooting period, I mean the production. To find the right person, a good producer who has many contacts and knows many people. We need many things like: clothes, costumes, make-up, the set, etc. And as we don’t have so much money for these things, this person would have to be talented to get these things through his or her contacts for free… In Estonia I can organise it, because I speak Estonian, I know people in the villages here and it is easy for me to say, like “oh, there is a nice house there” or “there is a lake there…”, to find clothes, and equipment and set design elements from somewhere… But in Russia, as I don’t know anybody, it would be more difficult. Probably if we would do the workshop in Russia, there would be a person who is in charge, whom we can trust and who can organise all this. So, it is not a problem, and if someone would say, “I will make a workshop in Moscow, please come”, we would come. It’s a matter of time and a matter of organisation.
Can you say a couple of words about your team. Who they are? Is it very big team, and everybody is busy only with making this film festival. Who are they in real life? Is it just a hobby or how it is? What kind of people do you have?
None of us is a film festival organiser as his or her main job. So, in real life I am a producer and director. To make a living I produce and direct films and also I do other projects. I make workshops on filmmaking for children in the region. I teach them how to make films, how to use a camera, how to edit… everywhere in Estonia, actually. And that is basically what I do, I don’t really do other work. In FUFF I am in charge with programming or finding programmers, finding and talking with the volunteers, getting the films, organising the accommodation and logistics, finding the right people for the right rolls.
And then we have Kristina Remmel, who actually runs one of the oldest translation companies in Estonia, A&A Lingua. And she also runs the Flax Museum. Kristina is in charge of the food and the general organisation because it is at her place, the Flax Museum. She helps a lot with written translations also.
And then we have Paul Nurme who used to be a cinematographer, although now he is setting up an eco-village close by, and he is also an IT programmer. So he is very good with computers, he is programming and doing web pages.
Also we have Lilla Puskás, who is Hungarian and who helps me put together the catalogue, although she does many other things besides that. Lilla is actually a film journalist. So basically her job is to travel around film festivals of the world. And… she is talking about us, advertising us in the world. It is very good that I found her, because she is really kind and helpful, she is open-minded and knows many people. She visits every big festival every year.
Then we have Tania Alybina, who is doing the workshop and dealing with ethnology, she is a PhD student – she also does not do the festival for a living.
For me it’s very important that I have people I can trust and who can do the communication with the people who are coming from Russia. So, basically what I understood after these two years, is that we have to delegate the work so that everybody knows exactly whose work is what, and then I don’t have to feel stressed. Now, I think, it’s getting better, because we already have many active people in our team. And they join us from festival to festival, and very often – thanks to the festival.
You have several programs in the festival, some of them are competition, some are not. Can you say more about that?
We have only one competition program, the Small Nations Program. It consists of films sent from different regions from different filmmakers – beginners mostly. All these films are made on the topic of small Finno-Ugric nations, and preferably the local language is used in the film. At the end of the festival we give out prizes to the winners of the competition program. We have different prizes, for example translation of the subtitles for the next film or help in post-production… we still don’t have financial prizes; it would be good to have that. But we have to find sponsors, and I hope that somebody reading this article might know somebody who could give out some prizes, for which people would be happy. It means a lot for the winners. It can be books, it can be, I don’t know… a camera or anything that makes somebody happy and helps them continue their work, or it can be money. But we are working on it, this is also one of the most difficult tasks. So if somebody is a specialist in this or somebody wants to try… It’s also a volunteer job, so let’s say, if somebody is willing to do this work, they can come to our festival.
What about non-competition programs?
My idea was that Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian films – they are not competitive films, we just have a selection. And this selection is made through people – programmers. And also last year we introduced Saami films… So, this year we will continue with Saami films, because they have a film industry already. We have a programmer from Finland, Ilka Peltola, a Finish producer, who is putting together the Finish program. We met when he came to our scriptwriting workshop last year. The Hungarian program I do myself, because I have good access to the Hungarian Film Union. Last year the Estonian film program was made by Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints. This year I asked Lowrens Boyce, who runs the Sleepwalkers film festival program. He is an English guy, but he really knows Estonian short films, and not only Estonian films. He is doing jurying and programming for different film festivals not only in Europe, but all over the world. We’ll have the Saami program this year again. Last year I made the selection, but this year Gabriela Salazar, who works in the Swedish Film Institute and used to live in Norway will do it. She is going to visit the Saami Film Festival in Inari (Finland). By the way, Gabriela also participated in our scriptwriting workshop last year. I think people who have visited our festival are eager to join us and help us or be active in our community.
Oh, and I haven’t said about the Experimental film program yet! This is the only program where we accept films from anywhere in the world. And I am trying to do collaboration with different film festivals. First year we were working with the Stuttgart experimental film festival. For the second year we were working with BuSho, which is a Hungarian short film festival. And this year, I am very happy that we will work together with Bucharest first film festival, which has yearly workshops on experimental films. So, we’ll show these experimental films and filmmakers will come and join us. And we’ll talk about their experiences – how to make film with a very small budget. Because my idea is that if people see that you can be creative, you can make films without money, you do not to have to sit and cry at home ”oh-h, I don’t have money, I cannot make this and I cannot make that…” So, they will see now that it’s possible. I already talked with Sorina Diaconu, who is the organiser of the experimental film workshop in Romania, and these people will come… They are from Italy, from France, Romania, Denmark and all of them, or at least 4 or 5 of them will come to our festival, we can meet and see their films.
So, this is the program. And then usually we have an opening film and a closing film for the Festival, which are usually feature films. Last year we had the films of Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio Pudana.Last of the Line. And the closing film was the first Udmurt feature film (“Соперницы”/ “Concurance”). The film was made in 1928, so it didn’t have sound. During the screening we had live music. The musicians from the Luhamaa music children camp accompanied the film in an experimental happening.
Edina, maybe you could also tell us about the FUFF expedition you went on at the end of the last year? What was the purpose of this trip?
Meanwhile I also understood that our work is not only filmmaking but is much wider… I understood that we have to make some expeditions too. To make our network as wide as possible. So, after the first Udmurt language film camp, we understood that it is very important to find the right people because we do not want to make commercial films or commercial art. The aim is to get closer to the Finno-Ugric soul and spirit and find the visual resemblance of that. If it is at all possible. Still I have the feeling that it is possible.
So, basically the idea is now to train people who are interested; each year we plan to find new language groups and new people. We plan make a workshop for Mari language film this year. And this year we had the chance to go to Bashkirija, to meet Mari people. We went to meet the people we would like to invite to our film workshops. I thought, if we would have personal contacts, we can work through the internet before the camp. So, they will watch more short films before, because usually there are not so many people who have seen this kind of art-house short film or who have ever been to a festival and know what a short film is. So, the expedition is necessary – as we do not know the reality there so well, I mean I did not know the situation in Russia, because I live in Estonia… We have been in villages and we were trying to find youngsters who would be interested in coming to Estonia and basically making the first Mari language short film.
And what was your expectation, actually, about the Finno-Ugric film world on Russian TV (as you don’t watch Russian television, or Mari channels at all).
So, exactly… like, the whole idea came during the Udmurt film seminar. Tania Alybina showed me Mari clips and TV programs in Mari on YouTube. And I was amazed, that it’s still like in the beginning – the quality and realisation is really… how to say – not so cool (J laughing), or by our standards – it’s not so good. We thought that… okay, we’ll go there, with Tania and with Anti – Anti Naulainen, (he is a very good script writer in Estonia who is also an activist for Finno-Ugric matters).
Thanks to the Kindred People’s Program we got the money to go on this expedition. We visited many villages and many cities: Birsk, Neftekamsk, Blagoveschensk, Arlan, Novaja Bura… We showed films in schools and met with students in high schools, and also showed films from our FUFF collection in homes. We met people and tried to say what we are aiming for, so that people would understand that they do not have to be film professionals in order to attend our course.
And also, we had a real opportunity to see the local culture, to feel it. It was amazing! That the whole… how to say… when you work, basically, volunteering for many years… I mean, when you go on an expedition and you get such a positive emotional impact, then you have the strength to work more. Then you realise again why you have started this ‘Don Quijote job’ (донкихотство). Otherwise… I mean, it’s normal that people work for money or for enthusiasm. But for enthusiasm, after that you work so long, you can lose your enthusiasm, but if you go and meet these nice people, these wonderful cultures, then you understand, why you do all this, that it’s not a waste of time, it’s not a waste of money, it’s very important. And I think we all believe, our little group, and also the organisers of the Finno-Ugric Film Festival, and our tutors in the workshops, that we are doing something important.
Was it successful? I hope you will get good feedback also, as you get with the festival script-writing seminars.
It was great! I mean, we understood, when we showed these short films in schools (during the expedition) that sometimes this is the first time that children have seen something like this, because they watch only TV, which is mostly commercial. There are no cinemas in the villages, so what can they do? Some people don’t even have the Internet to check something different, and they don’t know how to start. Our job was to introduce something new, something more artistic, and we are aiming for artistic things, we are not aiming for commercial filmmaking, which is, obviously, if you learn how to make films, you can do… you can do whatever with this knowledge, you can later do commercial films as well, but basically, the Finno-Ugric Film Foundation’s aim is not to do commercial films, but something that reflects on the Finno-Ugric … soul, on the mind-set, on the way of thinking. But I have talked about this before.
In the workshops we work with very good Estonian professionals. Just to make it clear: these people when they make films, they earn maybe 150 euro per day minimum, and they come and teach here for free. Obviously, we would like to pay them – it would be good, because they are there for 24 hours for two weeks with their equipment. It feels for me sometimes too much to ask from people… but, I am glad! We got so much inspiration.
Do you have any plans to go anywhere else?
So, Bashkiria was our first expedition. The second expedition we are planning is to Karelia this summer. And I know that the situation in Karelia is not so good either. In that area there are not only Karelians but also Vepsa people, to the Izhory people, Ingeri people and the Vadja people. We would like to know what is happening there, we would like to make photos. And just to meet people, to understand, what is going on and create some kind of closer, personal relationship, and meet again some talented youngsters.
And yes, we’ll continue our work… all the time.
Talking about this expedition to Bashkiria… you have that collection of Finno-Ugric films that were shown during the festivals, so you used this collection and also additional Estonian films, to show in small villages in Bashkiria, and at organised film events in Moscow.
Yes, thanks to Tania Alybina and our friends in Moscow we had a good chance to show Finno-Ugric films in Moscow and had two film events. When we went to Bashkiria, we stayed in Moscow, and then we had a screening of Estonian short films in the Moscow House of Nationalities . We introduced our film program and talked about our FUFF project. And on the way back, we showed a couple of Finno-Ugric films at the Hungarian Institute. We were brainstorming and had many new ideas… let’s say – I don’t know when it will be realised or not be realised – that maybe we could make a general filmmaking workshop in Moscow, like not only for any special nation, but all together – for those who are interested. I don’t know how to work this out, we should think of some kind of methodology. It’s just an idea I had, after, I saw how this community in Moscow exists and actually could work, I think, very well to get people together. So, these are the plans for the future.
So, it seems, you have done a lot last year and it was very successful, and your future plans are even greater! Can you say that all is prepared for this Finno-Ugric film season?
My biggest problem actually is time. As I am organising so many things, and I also have to live and earn money. Let’s say I don’t have time for the webpage of the Finno-Ugric Film Foundation. I know very well how important it is to promote things so that people would know that we exist and that they would find information at least through our website. I thought it would be good to meet some people who are happy to join us and lead some of our projects and ask them to do their own projects or help with the homepage. The main page of FUFF is under construction, we still have information from 2015. But we already sent a new call through our Facebook page, and the FUFF partner site mariuver.com. So, the information on our site will also be updated soon (see fuff.ee). Any question you have can be addressed to email@example.com. Tania or I will answer. The first deadline for the call is very soon – it is the 15th of February. So, it is very important that we send out the calls, even though the homepage is not totally ready.
And maybe the last question. I have two questions, actually, maybe I can combine them somehow. One is about politics – how can you avoid political problems, that can sometimes influence what you do, even if indirectly? The other one is about films – about the visual approach, story–telling structure, this is generally the same for European and Russian Finno-Ugrians. Do we see the world in a similar way?
I hope, that, you know… I think it’s already very wrong if everyday politics is disturbing a person’s life. So, I think we should strictly focus on friendship. People can come to our camp with a different political mind-set, with totally different opinions about politics, but we don’t focus on that… Obviously, people fight and can go mad, but I think our aim is somewhere else. The effectiveness of our work is greater if we focus on little things: get the films done and get the equipment, etc. I think our aim is to make films in our own languages.
I think that Finno-Ugric mythology and culture are so rich that you can make films. You don’t have to make films about the political situation or sociological problems or whatever. Obviously, if you are brave and you want to do this, you can do it. I mean… you see… I don’t know…it is everybody’s personal choice and strength.
For me the bigger question is that we have learnt filmmaking on the basis of (in Estonia and Hungary) the Indo-European way, like Aristotle and his poetics. When you see that, you know, there is a beginning, middle and the end in the story. The question is how do we find out what the Finno-Ugric way of filmmaking is? Is there one? And how long do we have to practice to find this out? This all relates to our worldview; it is very deeply rooted in our cultures. Our narrative system surely also relates to the visual language. I should go deeper into this topic and make some research to understand the relationship between Finno-Ugric storytelling and visual realisation, visual narrative. I try to find examples. Let’s say for the opening film (of the the 3rd FUFF) I chose a new film by Veiko Õunpuu, an Estonian film director, called Roukli. And, I think, this is the very good example of a Finno-Ugric film. In my opinion, this film does not belong to the Indo-European narrative system, like almost all the films we usually see on television. It has a different structure. So, if you see this kind of film, and if you are also a Finno-Ugric person, with a Finno-Ugric language in your mind and a Finno-Ugric mind set, then you can find that “oh-h-o! This is a possible way to make films!“, you don’t have to follow the rules what we have learnt in school. This is still a kind of investigation, and I hope in the future I am going to meet some kind of… PhD students or who somebody who is writing about the Finno-Ugric way of filmmaking or read about an anthropological investigation, because this is a topic, actually, I am very interested in. According to the mythology there was an egg, and the bird came from the egg, and that bird laid an egg and the next bird laid an egg, and this is how the story goes, so this is a kind of spiral way of telling a story, an approach that is, I think, not so obvious in Indo-European culture. The spiral of life and of constructing life is this nature of the Finno-Ugric people, this is rooted in our brains. This is a journey of the Shaman. Obviously, many articles and much research must be done – that’s how it is in reality. I cannot talk about it so much now, because this research is not complete and I am at the beginning of understanding this subject. You step on a dark road and slowly morning comes and the sun comes up. I am still in the dark.
Interviewer – Albina Ivanova,
editing of the text – Daniel Allen, Hedda Maurer