When film guests and locals meet around the kitchen table, this is what happens.
The taxi stops in front of a big, concrete apartment building from the Soviet era. We have arrived in ‘Onion Town’ – translated from the Estonian name of this Tallinn neighborhood: Sibulaküla. In the 18th century, Russians living alongside the Härjapea River had their onion plantations here. Today, it is one of the central districts of the city. Onions can only be found in the adjacent Solaris Shopping Center.
Although, who knows, we might get some onions served this afternoon. Film student Kristen Aigro, and her best friend, and film fanatic in crime, Paula Üleoja have prepared lunch for a few of the festival’s jury members at their home. This event, which is running for the third year at Black Nights, is called Kitchen Filled With Cinema. It has proved a welcome outing for the square-eyed-juries and a good way for locals and international guests to get to know each other, and the local way of life.
Chanterelle risotto in Onion Town
As we – Hongkong based producer Michael J.Werner, Ukrainian film critic Daria Badior and Kazakh producer Kanat Torebay, and myself – enter the house, we find Kristen stirring in a big pan of chanterelle risotto. ‘Bold choice, to make risotto!’ says Michael.
Kristen laughs. ‘Yes, I realized that myself as well. But as with filmmaking, cooking is allowed to be chaotic.’ She pauses. ‘That’s what I read in the event description, anyway!’
We take our seats around the long table in the kitchen. Big plates of starters are laid out in the middle of it. Paula points at some of the snacks: ‘This is smoked cheese… those are quail eggs, then there’s black bread with egg butter and traditional Estonian fish. I never remember the name of it in English. Kristen, do you?’
“A real Estonian summer delicacy!”
With a big spoon of risotto still in one hand, Kristen slides out her cell phone from her pant pocket. ‘It’s similar to anchovies,’ she says while she types something into her mobile. ‘Ah! Sprats!’ She puts the phone down on the kitchen counter. ‘They are especially very popular with our parents’ generation.’ As Daria tastes one of the small sprat sandwiches, her eyes light up in recognition. ‘I remember,’ she says. ‘We used to have these in Ukraine as well. In little cans. Sprats from the Baltics.’ Later in the evening, Kanat will be reminded of a way he experienced Estonian culture during Soviet times. As it turns out, part of his school curriculum was reading the famous Estonian author Tammsaare.
Paula explains that they have chosen to do a summery menu this Sunday. ‘We thought it was a bit too early to get Christmas food. We found some lightly salted cucumbers at the market. A real Estonian summer delicacy!’ Collectively, we grab cucumber slices from the serving plate and take a bite. The taste is delicately herby and the structure crispy. ‘I would’ve made them myself,’ says Kristen. ‘But you need blackcurrant leaves and I have no idea where I’d get those from in November! The ladies at the market must have stashed loads of them for winter.’
Tallinn wouldn’t be a bad place for a filmmaker to retire…
How the film professionals have been enjoying their days in Estonia? Although they have mostly been inside the cinema, they all agree that at least the Old Town, which is next to the hotel, is very nice for a stroll. ‘I am about to retire,’ says Michael. ‘And every time I go to a film festival now, I always look around the place with this perspective. I was near Barcelona this year and was imagining myself retiring in the Spanish sun. But now I catch myself thinking: hmmm, Tallinn wouldn’t be a bad place to live…’ They add a few words on the films they have seen as a jury so far – but only after I’ve promised that I will hide my notebook.
‘Anyone for another glass of wine?’ inquires Paula, then. We all slide our glasses a bit forward and Kanat notes: ‘The Russians taught us how to drink. But not how much.’
Borscht and method acting in Northern Tallinn
At a bit past five, I make my way to the second lunch party all the way across town. To the Northern Tallinn district, which not so long ago was still considered somewhat of a ghetto, but is now an up and coming residential area. Here, I join the lunch party hosted by PӦFF Head of Communications Hannes Aava and his partner Karola Karlson. A candle-lit attic apartment, a table set with potato salad, borscht soup and carafes of red wine; the mood at this lunch is leaning well towards Christmas.
Next to other PӦFF team members Gerda Merivee and Saara Huimerind, three foreign film guests have joined around the table: Swedish actress Lisa Carlehed, Colombian director Ruben Mendoza and producer and actor Ilkka Matila from Finland. Five minutes in, the latter is already inspecting the home sauna together with our host.
We have a long discussion on which film by Paweł Pawlikowski is the better one, Ida or Cold War. Ida gets votes for it’s simple and pure subject matter. Cold War is mostly admired for the work of actress Joanna Kulig. She is ‘an earthquake of a woman’, as Ruben puts it.
‘There is an acting method, where you practice Kundalini yoga with all the cast members every morning for several hours before you start work. It’s very physical,’ says Ruben a bit later. ‘Have you tried it, Lisa?’ Lisa looks a bit confused and laughs. ‘No, no! I am sure I have not. In Sweden, we don’t practice such strict and harsh methods. We are very soft. We act, we cuddle and say ‘good job’ to each other.’
In the taxi back to the hotel, Ruben admits that he felt a bit reluctant when he got the invite to the home lunch, in between the busy work schedule. ‘But I’m happy I did it. It made me think of my time at the film festival in Toulouse, where some filmmakers stayed in hotels, but others were hosted by local families. I have very fond memories of it.’