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Estonia: the strength of diversity

Estonia is one of the most avant-garde countries in Europe and indeed the world as regards modernity and organisational structures. It has historically acted as a cultural frontier between the West and the ex USSR, for which it represented a corridor of intellectual infiltration, given its geographic and ethnic proximity to Scandinavia. The characteristics of curiosity, eclecticism and openness of Estonian culture have produced an animation cinema which is still relatively young (apart from a few "disneyesque" experiments which failed to take off in the thirties, the first modern animated film produced in Estonia was in fact Little Peter's Dream by Elbert Tuganov, dated 1958), and which has managed to detach itself from the Russian and Soviet examples, assimilating the best of western cinema while developing an absolutely original and unmistakable character of its own, both in the area of puppet animation and animated drawings. Lucca Animation 2008's retrospective, accompanied by the Having Soul exhibition supplied by the Nukufilm studio, is comprised of six screenings. The first three offer homage to the creators who made Estonian cinema, traditional and contemporary: the founder, Elbert Tuganov, whose aforementioned Little Peter's Dream celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year; the witty surrealist Priit Pärn, the most internationally acclaimed; and the multiform Mati Kütt, capable of expressing great visual appeal in all animation techniques. Following these, and concluding this section, is an explorative journey of the three production entities which have shaped animation in Estonia: Tallinnfilm from the soviet era and the two private companies which originally constituted its two departments (puppet animation and animated drawings) which in 1991, following independence, generated the two current guiding entities: Nukufilm, specializing in stop motion and Eesti Joonisfilm, headed by Priit Pärn and his young students.

Estonian animation, notwithstanding the variety of its results, reflects a series of basic fundamentals. The visual element, conveyed above all in drawings that are often extremely inventive, colourful and iridescent, is the principal characteristic. This is combined with very sophisticated soundtracks, which often play a principle role in the films (not surprisingly, given that Estonia enacted that which became known as the «Singing Revolution», reflecting the nationalistic importance of its musical heritage and festivals, which became a poetic and bloodless example of anti-soviet resistance), demonstrating its capacity to revise musical folklore and its beat and obsessive tribal sounds, mixing them with suggestions of electronic music. The Estonian approach to puppet animation is therefore much more experimental than that of its Czechoslovakian "cousins" of the classical school, committing itself to much more variegated techniques (pixilation, object animation, cut-out animation, mixtures of 2D e 3D), to examples further a field (Great Britain) or more extreme (Svankmajer, Borowczyk, the Quay brothers), while animated drawing has flourished in recent years under the charismatic influence of a giant, Priit Pärn. Based on this, Estonian animation combines many themes connected to fairy tales, folklore and ecology, aspects which reflect Estonia's Nordic culture status, Finnish, almost animist (Estonia has remained almost devoid of the presence of State religion and is impervious to the penetration of Catholicism),with an incisive form of surrealism and symbolic reflection on the demands and deformities of contemporary society. The society of a small Baltic nation which has undergone a transformation from foreign communist dictatorship to unbridled capitalism, despite its being internally controlled much more carefully than elsewhere.