Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF) announces its 2021 First Features competition lineup

The selection includes ten world premieres, nine international premieres and one European premiere, among the slate of 20 debuts.

It’s a diverse, global programme of real contrasts and extremes, including everything from musicals to animation, thrillers and dark comedies, as well as a good dose of surrealism and surprisingly many funerals.
Festival Director Tiina Lokk commented, “Let’s face it - making a debut feature film isn’t easy in the best of times. But it’s pressure that makes diamonds. We saw enough debuts, of sufficiently high quality, that we could have filled up two competition programmes of First Features this year. It’s a genuine sadness that we can’t give all of these new directors and their unique films the platform they deserve. What we do have is a real celebration of cinema and a feast for the senses.”

Black Nights Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021 and runs from November 12-28 in Tallinn & Tartu, Estonia. The full programmes of films will be announced at the start of November. International press and professionals will have the opportunity to watch much of the competition programmes online, as well as in press screenings onsite in Tallinn.

First Features - In Competition

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The Score
Songs, crimes and falling in love with waitresses: Malachi Smyth’s debut “heist musical” The Score finds two crooks singing their way down quite different paths, as one ambitiously schemes and the other finds himself pining for a different life. Among a pack of acknowledged young actors, Johnny Flynn is also the wordsmith behind the picture’s tunes. Director Smyth has his own small Estonian connection, having written UK/Estonian sci-fi Gateway 6, to be directed by Tanel Toom.


The Cloud & The Man (Manikbabur Megh)
Abhinandan Banerjee’s debut also comes to PÖFF as a world premiere. In artful and contemplative black and white, the film doesn’t worry itself too much with the rigidities of plot and steps out into a surreal and philosophical reflection on one recently-bereaved middle aged man and his accidentally complex (and increasingly meaningful) relationship with a cloud.


Alice, Through the Looking: À la recherche d’un lapin perdu
Composer-turned-director Adam Donen brings his pleasingly bizarre, Brexit-referencing Alice in Wonderland retelling to Black Nights for its world premiere. Leading us through this new reality is the soothing voice of Vanessa Redgrave as narrator, alongside Slavoj Žižek, among many other surprises, visual and auditory.


Who is Sleeping in Silver Grey (白天总是太过漫长)
It’s early nineties China: Girl meets boy, he’s married and she gets fired from her job as a school music teacher. From there on in, she and we are swept off to meditate on our loneliness on a dream-like island/mountain, swathed in mist, rich in mysteries and complete with a population who live in near total silence.


Feature Film About Life (Ilgo metro filmas apie gyvenimą)
The Lithuanian drama sees strange and absurd situations abound as central character and director-namesake Dovilė is forced to organise a DIY funeral for her recently-departed father. PÖFF is excited to welcome the world premiere of Dovilė Šarutytė’s Feature Film About Life, after it was part of Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event’s 2020 Works in Progress programme.


Troubled Minds (Nemierīgie prāti)
Dramedy Troubled Minds is a psychedelic ego trip in the best possible way, as two modern artists venture above the arctic circle and inside the darkness of their own minds, hunting for the borders and boundaries of normality. The Latvian Ābele brothers (Raitis and Lauris) present their fiction feature debut as a world premiere in Tallinn. The final Abele brother, Mārcis, handles cinematography.


The Red Tree (El Arbol Rojo)
Joan Gómez Endara’s familial road trip, sees retired musician Eliécer thrust into the role of unprepared caregiver for a half-sister, Esperanza, he’s never met. It deftly combines eye candy scenery and interpersonal dynamics, with a central and representative essence of Colombia running through everything.


Other Cannibals (Altri Cannibali)
Francesco Sossai’s semi-horror feature Other Cannibals is, in sharp monochrome, both provocative and exceptionally normal. Fausto and Ivan come together in the post-industrial malaise of northern Italy, the story pivoting around one particularly taboo-breaking (and title connected) act, to reevaluate their lives, the people they hold close and the ghosts of their pasts.


Life Suits Me Well (La Vie me va bien)
Morrocco’s Al Hadi Ulad-Mohand takes us back to the 1990s and a complex extended family ensemble piece. Fouad’s wife and children struggle to make sense of the slow passing of this family patriarch, but find themselves and each other again in the hustle and bustle of life’s equally-inevitable continuation.


Questioning authority and family allegiances, a younger generation of immigrants renegotiate their relationship with the traditions and struggles of their predecessors, while exploring everything the modern West has to offer. Michael LeBlanc and Joshua Reichmann put together the drama Tenzin with a cast of almost entirely exiled Tibetan-Canadians.


Her Way (Une Femme Du Monde)
Cécile Ducrocq’s shorts have been to Cannes and won a César. Her debut feature Her Way reunites Ducrocq with Call My Agent’s Laure Calamy in the lead role, as an exceptionally determined and fiercely independent mother. When her sex work income can’t cover the cost of her son’s high end culinary education, she takes matters even further into her own hands. Her Way visits Tallinn Black Nights for its international premiere.


Immersion (Inmersión)
Chilean/Mexican thriller Immersion plunges us into a bracing, tense and tragic family drama, almost all shot on and in dark and shimmering water. It’s a summer holiday gone drastically wrong, descending into savagery. Nicolás Postiglione’s debut comes to PÖFF as an international premiere after showing at Guadalajara.


Precious Ivie (Ivie Wie Ivie)
Sara Blaßkiewitz’s debut tracks the shifting relationship of two Afro-German half-sisters brought together by the death of their father and their experience of the harsh reality of everyday racism in a city not as modern as it seems on the surface. Precious Ivie has its international premiere in Tallinn, after screening in Munich and picking up a best supporting actress gong at the German Film Awards.


Dark Heart of the Forest (Le Cœur Noir des Forêts)
Belgian/French co-production Dark Heart of the Forest takes us deep into the woods, with two troubled teens in love and seeking the sense of family they both never really had, switching through perspectives before morphing into something not to be spoiled here. Serge Mirzabekiantz debut has its international premiere after first screening at Brussels International Film Festival.


Dozens of Norths (幾多の北)
Japan’s Koji Yamamura, already a renowned artist and animator, brings the international premiere of his feature debut, Dozens of Norths, to our 25th birthday edition of PÖFF. The experimental and existential hand drawn and painted piece, charts a dialogue-free voyage into an alien northern realm: it’s skeletal architecture and chilly inhabitants. The film will first have its world premiere in competition at Japan’s New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival.


The Radio Amateur (El radioaficionado)
Celebrated documentary director Iker Elorrieta steps over into fiction with The Radio Amateur, an international premiere at Black Nights after premiering in September’s San Sebastian. Wires are crossed and much is revealed in the omissions, as our neuro-diverse protagonist Nikolas, reconnecting with a childhood friend (with her own baggage) along the way, seeks to spread his mother’s ashes on the open sea.


Nazil Elif Durlu, with a strong screenwriting track record, makes her feature directorial debut with Zuhal. Growing out from a central theme of modern, big city loneliness, the story peels back layers of humorous and touchingly real life experience. Our central character lawyer struggles to keep up appearances, as she hunts her apartment building for a cat only she can hear.


Occupation (Okupace)
Through a fog of vintage communist cigarette smoke, the arrival of a distinctly unwanted Russian to a bar full of Czech drinkers brings forth a vodka-soaked clash of cultures. Michal Nohejl’s debut feature, the pitch black comedy Occupation, has its international premiere with us.


Other People (Inni ludzie)
Aleksandra Terpińska’s Other People, based on the novel by Dorota Masłowska, is somehow dizzyingly active and darkly miserable all at once. At the centre of the tale, a rich, bored housewife takes on a wannabe rapper as first her handyman, then lover. From there, we sprawl out to the connections around them, in fluorescent-lit tower blocks of modern Poland. Other People will have its international premiere at PÖFF25, after debuting and picking up several prizes in Gdynia.


Blind Love
Zurich-born, with a Kenyan mother, the overemployed (writer/director/editor/composer) Damien Hauser brings Blind Love to Tallinn Black Nights for its European premiere. The film is centred on the (love) story of a blind man and a deaf woman and it’s perhaps even more complex than that sounds, shifting tones and springing surprises.