09 December, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
In what had to be one of the more unusual and visually artistic Awards Ceremonies I've ever attended, the 12th edition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival came to a dramatic close last evening (although screenings continue through the day on Sunday). The ceremony, a multi-media show that included video, live music by an Estonian rock band and an avant-garde performance presentation involving the Festival's jurors, was greeted by the enthusiastic audience as another sign of the Festival's artistic spirit. The beautiful Russian Theater on the outskirts of Tallinn's Old Town proved an eye-popping venue for the highly original awards event.
The top prize of the evening, the winner of the Grand Prix in the official EurAsia Competition of European and Asian films is the English-Irish prison drama HUNGER. The debut film, by video artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen, was acknowledged by the Jury for its powerful cinematic language and confident and passionate narrative. The dramatization of a hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison in the 1970s, the film has won major awards at other festival events, notably the Camera d'Or for Best First Film at the Cannes Film Festival. The Award includes a cash prize of 10,000 Euros given by the city of Tallinn.
The Best Director Prize in the EurAsia Competition also went to a fellow British filmmaker. Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom was honored for his work on the film GENOVA. The Best Actress prize was announced for young Russian actress Aleksandra Tiuftej for her role in MUKHA. The Best Actor prize was split among the three leads of Mika Karusimaki's THREE WISE MEN: Kari Heiskanen, Pertti Sveholm and Timo Torikka. A Special Jury Prize was awarded to the Israeli animated documentary WALTZ WITH BASHIR, another film that figures to win accolades during the end-of-the-year awards season. The Best Cinematography Prize was given to Luca Bigazzi for his work on the Italian political docudrama IL DIVO. The Jury also announced two Special Mentions - THE WORLD IS BIG AND SALVATION LURKS AROUND THE CORNER (Bulgaria) and TWO LEGGED HORSE (Iran). The EurAsia Competition section included 18 films from Europe and Asia, and the Jury was headed by Dutch film director Jos Stelling.
The Jury of the Tridens Baltic Feature Film Competition, held for the first time this year, awarded the Latvian documentary THREE MEN AND A FISH POND the inaugural Tridens Baltic Film Award. The Jury praised Latvian documentarians Laila Pakalnina and Maris Maskalans for creating a humane poetic and affecting portrayal of the parallel ecologies of human friendship and the natural world. The Award for Best Cinematography also went to the same film, with a cash prize scholarship of 1000 Euros from Elokuvakonepaja.The Scottish Leader Estonian Film Award, which a cash prize of 50.000 Estonian kroons (about $4,000) was given by the Jury to the animated film LIFE WITHOUT GABRIELLA FERRI by Priit and Olga Pärn. The jury announced two Special Mentions, for the Estonian documentaries ALYOSHA (Meelis Muhu) and TOOMIK'S MOVIE (Marko Raat).
The FIPRESCI International Film Critics Prize, which was given this year at the Festival for the first time, presented its inaugural award to the Estonian documentary THE KINGS OF TIME by director Mait Laas. The Jury of NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) gave its award to the Chinese film THE SHAFT by director Zhang Chi. The Jury of the International Federation of Film Clubs (FICC) gave its prize to the Bulgarian film THE WORLD IS BIG AND SALVATION LURKS AROUND THE CORNER by director Stephan Komandarev. The Audience Award, voted on by the Tallinn audiences attending all the Festival screenings, was given to the American film THE WRESTLER by Darren Aronofsky.
The Festival presented two Lifetime Achievement Awards. The first was given by the Estonian Society of Cinematographers to acclaimed Estonian cinematographer Harry Rehe for his unique creative contribution to Estonian film culture and for his promotion efforts of the national film art. The award includes a cash prize of 3000 euros.
The Filmmaker Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to the veteran Swedish actor Max Von Sydow, who appearances in many of the films of Ingmar Bergman and his memorable supporting role in THE EXORCIST has made him an international favorite and a true "actor's actor". Van Sydow could not attend but promised Festival Director Tina Lokk that he will try and attend next year's event. His award will be waiting for him.