New Waves, New Spaces: Estonian Experimental Cinema of the 1970s

Naripea, Eva (2010) New Waves, New Spaces: Estonian Experimental Cinema of the 1970s. KinoKultura: New Russian Cinema, SE10 . ISSN 1478-6567

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Using the label of “new wave” in the context of Estonian cinema is highly problematic and controversial because, unlike in France or, to take a more similar socio-political framework, in Czechoslovakia, the (Soviet) Estonian filmic arena did not see a creative outburst synchronous with and comparable to, both in scope of innovative production and international acclaim, the cinematic practices adorned with the adjective “new” elsewhere in Europe. While the heyday of various new waves, both in Western Europe and in the Soviet bloc, is normally limited to the period between the mid-1950s and the ruptures of 1968, in Estonia, as the local literary critic Mart Velsker (1999: 1211) has accurately argued, the essence of the innovative 1960s “is manifested in its most vivid form some time between 1968 and 1972, that is, at the end of the decade and partly even beyond it.” Compared to other artistic genres, however, Estonian cinema was severely lagging behind, both in achievement and in reputation. The true “Estonian New Wave” has been defined by local critics as born and burgeoning in the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s (Orav 2003: 54ff; Kärk 1995: 117; Kirt 1980: 33-4), when a new generation of young filmmakers entered the stagnated cinematic stage with bravado, finally inverting the low ebb that had lasted nearly a decade. Yet, in the midst of the ebbing waters of the early 1970s, a dark horse emerged, whose artistic contribution to Estonian cinematic heritage deserves to be identified as a new wave in miniature, a veritable diamond, albeit perhaps rough-cut. This author was Jaan Tooming, an actor and a theatre director, whose films constitute a fundamentally unprecedented phenomenon in Estonian cinema. His controversial, stylistically and semantically rich output, composed of unceasingly intriguing visual utterances, provides a fascinating order of spatial representations, which reconfigure Estonian cinematic territories in several respects and, at the same time, re-evaluate and criticize quite provocatively the historical and conceptual framework of imagining national, social and personal identities. The following investigation of Tooming’s films will concentrate chiefly on the spatial representations and practices, with digressions into the domain of re/constructing identities, both personal and collective.

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