The highway crossing of Estonian film

In the 1990s, Estonian film-makers faced the same kind of choices as film-makers in other countries: Whether to be profound or popular, original or conventional, self-centred or open? In a country with a population of 1.4 million, you simply cannot expect box-office takings to cover the production costs of a feature film. National film-making can thus not survive purely through being market-oriented.

The situation forces films, as well as film-makers, to talk about money. The local film with the biggest audience in 1999, Arko Okk's debut The Highway Crossing, will probably be seen as a crossroad in several senses. On the one hand there is the possibility to move on to the next byroad, on the other the necessity to enter the highway where one has to keep up with others, much faster and more powerful.

In The Highway…, an eccentric artist wants to buy himself happiness. Late one evening, a relatively well-off young couple out travelling, seek shelter in his house. The problems start when the artist, who sees the arrival of the woman as the fulfilment of an omen, tries to come to an agreement to buy her out of her marriage. Instead of a sarcastic tale about the attractions of money, the director gives us a rather comic parable about the elusiveness of money. The discussions between the film's three characters give a lucid picture of the half-hearted compromises that seem to have become a natural part of everyday life in post-communist countries.

Of necessity a low-budget production, it was nevertheless a fascinating one, The Highway… is itself an example of a compromise between possibilities and aspirations. Within a few years, the collapse of the Soviet Union had caused the crumbling of the old system of film production. The centrally-controlled and financed system of studios which functioned in almost every Soviet republic, became independent, only for film-makers to discover that the system didn't work any more. Within a few years, the price of cinema tickets increased considerably, the gigantic distribution system vanished and domestic films lost their audience. Small studios emerged instead, but their resources and experience were severely limited. It was only natural that the new state and economy, struggling to establish themselves, were unable to help finance the film industry in an adequate manner. The network of cinemas was also quietly disappearing: nowadays, the capital Tallinn with its population of 410 000, has the same number of cinemas as it had in 1908. In rural areas the effect has been even more drastic. The interest in domestic films has not entirely evaporated however, although this may be connected to Estonia having the most expensive cinema tickets in Eastern Europe.

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