FNE Market Analysis 2023: ESTONIA

    Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints credit: Alexandra Film

    TALLINN: The year 2023 was certainly eventful for Estonia, both locally and internationally. The steady increase in admissions and box office didn’t reach the pre-pandemic levels, but took the total a whole lot closer. Cinemas were popular, films were talked about, and the wrap-up of 2023 seems like a good place from where to continue.

    Admissions per capita reached over 2 again for the first time after the pandemic (2.06) and the ticket revenue surpassed 20 m EUR (20.98m EUR), almost catching up with the all-time highest number of 21.8 m EUR in 2019. One of the factors influencing this statistic is certainly the inflation rate, which has dropped significantly by 2024 to 5.0%, but even with this reduced number, Estonia is among the countries with one of the highest inflation rates in Europe.

    The most attended film of 2023 was Barbie, followed by the local feature film The Vacationers / Suvitajad by Ergo Kuld, produced by Taska Film in coproduction with Apollo Film Productions and Kassikuld. Predictably, Oppenheimer came in the third spot.

    The Invisible Fight by Rainer Sarnet, credit: Homeless Bob ProductionAfter The Vacationers, the top three of Estonian films was rounded out by feature films Faulty Brides / Vigased pruudid by Ergo Kuld, produced by Apollo Film Productions in coproduction with Taska Film and Kassikuld, and the final instalment of the Melchior the Apothecary trilogy – the Estonian/German/Latvian/Lithuanian Melchior the Apothecary: The Executioner’s Daughter / Apteeker Melchior. Timukatütar by Elmo Nüganen, produced by Taska FilmNafta FilmsApollo Film Productions and Hansa Film, and coproduced by Maze Pictures, Film Angels Productions and InScript.

    Local comedies found their audience, but we cannot disregard the fact that Apollo Film Productions belongs in the same company with Apollo Media group and Apollo cinema chain, both companies being the biggest in Estonia in film sector. Therefore, these films have notable advantage in advertising, marketing, distribution and even criticism.

    Internationally, Estonia had a remarkable year, mainly due to one title that set new benchmarks for Estonian cinema in 2023. The documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood / Savvusanna sõsarad by Anna Hints, produced by Alexandra Film and coproduced by France’s Kepler 22 Production and Iceland’s Ursus Parvus, started the year off strong with the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival, had an award-winning follow-up at a number of festivals, and by the end of 2023 received Estonia’s first ever European Film Award for Best European Documentary. The film also got nominated for the LUX Award and won few important prizes stateside, namely the IDA (International Documentary Association) Award and the Cinema Eye Honors Award for Best Cinematography for Ants Tammik.

    The second success story was the most original work up-to-date by Rainer Sarnet The Invisible Fight / Nähtamatu võitlus, which premiered at Locarno. The film is produced by Estonia’s Homeless Bob Production in coproduction with Latvia’s White Picture, Greece’s Neda Film and Finland’s Helsinki-Filmi

    The Shadow by Jaak Kilmi, credit: Kristjan MõruPRODUCTION

    Several feature films were shot in 2023.

    Tõnis Pill’s debut feature Frank, produced by Allfilm, is a youth-oriented drama that focuses on a teenage boy who has grown up in an abusive environment for most of his childhood. Coming from a broken family, Paul ends up in a foreign city, where he starts making a series of wrong decisions to find happiness, but his inevitable downfall is prevented by a strange disabled man.

    Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo’s sophomore feature Lioness / Emalõvi is a realistic drama about a worried mother and her daughter. When 15-year-old rebellious Stefi goes missing, her mother Helena has nothing left to lose anymore. Why cling to sanity when madness offers a chance for reconciliation and love? The film produced by Allfilm is scheduled for release in September 2024.

    Another debut feature, Life and Love / Elu jaarmastus by Helen Takkin, is an adaptation of the novel under the same title by most renowned Estonian writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare, recounting a love story between a wealthy magnate and a country girl, who comes to the big city and ends up working as his maid. The film was shot in the summer of 2023, and it was produced by Taska Film in coproduction with Apollo Film Productions.

    Jaak Kilmi’s The Shadow / Vari is based on the life of the Estonian poet Juhan Liiv, and follows Liiv, an aspiring poet who ends up in the middle of a gruesome murder mystery in the 1890s Estonia. Taska Film is producing in coproduction with Apollo Film Productions, Hansafilm and Reede. The film is scheduled to be released in October 2024.

    Meel Paliale’s sophomore feature Long Papers / Pikadpaberid, produced by Tallifornia, is a generational observation about aimless young people in urban environment, who have what it The Vacationers by Ergo Kuld, credit: Taska Filmtakes but are often not sure which direction to choose with their lives.

    In the spring of 2023, a long and secretive shooting period ended for a film tentatively titled Dog / Koer, directed by Rasmus Merivoo and produced by Tallifornia. At the beginning of 2024, it was publicly announced that it is actually a sequel to the massively popular cult short film Alien / Tulnukas from 2006, and brings back the much loved gopnik parking lot small-time hustler characters, whose antiquated views have not quite survived the big democratic changes in the make-believe near-future society where all cars drive on electricity, all drugs are legal and all sexual liberties are encouraged.

    Tallifornia is also responsible for a third film project, Two of Me  / Meid on kaks by Esko Brothers, twin brothers who are making a self-reflective, playful feature film about twins trying to make a film about twins. This coming-of-age mixed genre film was shot over 22 days in July-September 2023, and the shoot will continue in 2024.

    In the short film department, Anna Hints, who had notable success with Smoke Sauna Sisterhood on the festival circuit, shot a fiction film in the summer of 2023, a sort of male riff on the female sauna documentary. In Sauna Day, produced by Stellar Film, she and co-director Tushar Prakash follow two men friends in the sauna where it seems that there is more than friendship between them, something that can never be spelled out in a small town environment.

    Black Hole / Must auk by Moonika Siimets, produced by Amrion, is a surreal blend of three Estonian short stories that is dealing with solitude and lack of love in the Tallinn tower block district. The film commenced shooting in the spring of 2023 and the delays in intricate postproduction have promised the autumn of 2024 as the new release date.

    Aurora by Rain Tolk and Andres Maimik, produced by Kuukulgur Film, follows the eponymous daughter of a religious leader, who enters a secret extramarital affair that challenges her life arrangements. She tries to please everyone, but secrets begin to reveal themselves at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

    Aurora by Rain Tolk and Andres Maimik, credit: DoP Heiko SikkaOut of more important minority coproductions, three Finnish films stand out.

    The documentary master Pirko Honkasalo is continuing her journey in the world of feature films with Orenda, a captivating relationship drama dealing with the themes of guilt and mercy. Orenda is written by established writer/director/actor Pirkko Saisio, who will also be performing one of the two main roles in the film, alongside Alma Pöysti. Finland’s Bufo is producing in coproduction with Estonia’s Allfilm and Sweden’s PlattformProduktion.

    After Oscar-shortlisted The Fencer, produced by Finland’s Making Movies in coproduction with Allfilm in 2015, Klaus Häro returned to Estonia to shoot his historical drama Never Alone, about the attempt at ethnic cleansing of Jews in Finland during WW2. The film was shot from September to November 2023, and it is produced by Finland’s Matila Röhr Productions in coproduction with Estonia’s Taska Film, Sweden’s Hobab, Germany’s Penned Pictures and Austria’s Samsara Filmproduktion.

    Miia Tervo’s latest feature film project The Missile was also shot in Estonia as a thriller-comedy based on a true event in 1984 when the Soviet Union inexplicably shot a missile to Finnish territory. The missile got lost and for some time nobody knew if it was a nuclear warhead or not. The Missile is produced by Finland’s Komeetta and Aurora Studios in coproduction with Estonia’s Stellar Film.

    Apathy, a drama by Greek director Alexandros Avranas, follows Sergei and Natalia, political asylum-seekers who fled to Sweden with their two daughters, hoping for a new happy life. Those hopes are crushed when their application is rejected, and their daughter Katja, traumatised by this episode, suddenly falls into a “coma”, a condition known as Resignation Syndrome or Apathy, explained as self-protection against the feeling of fear. The film is produced by France’s Les Films du Worso and Elle Driver, and coproduced by Estonia’s Amrion and Three Brothers, Greece’s Playground and Asterisk, Sweden’s Fox in the Snow Films, and Germany’s ARTE France & Germany.

    Sauna Day by Anna Hints, credit: Stellar FilmSwedish Torpedo is a period drama that tells the story of Sally Bauer, the first Scandinavian to swim across the English Channel in 1939. The film is directed by Frida Kempff and is produced by Sweden’s Momento Film in coproduction with Estonia’s Amrion and Three Brothers, Denmark’s Toolbox Film, Finland’s Inland Film Company and Belgium’s Velvet Films.


    A total of 424 films were released in Estonia in 2023, of which 282 were new titles. The result of 2.82 m admissions is yet another remarkable uptick from 2022 (2.33m admissions), gathering the box office of 20.98 m EUR. The admissions per capita rose over 2, up to 2.06 (from 1.75 in 2022), and the average cost of a cinema ticket was 7.44 EUR.

    A total of 54 Estonian films were theatrically released in 2023, out of those, 31 were new titles. Estonian films scored 613,227 admissions (notably more than 481,585 admissions in 2022), with 4.2 m EUR gross, surpassing 2022 with a cool 1 m EUR. Local market share went up a notch as well, reaching 21.75% (compared to 20.67% in 2022).

    Estonian year 2023 in international festivals was fully dictated by the incomparable successes of Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Starting with the Best Director Award in the World Documentary Competition of the Sundance Film Festival, the film managed to win the FIPRESCI Prize at the Viennale, and Best Long Documentary Prize in San Francisco, plus about two dozen other awards, including the European Film Award for Best European Documentary (unprecedented for Estonia), not to mention almost all Estonian annual cultural awards imaginable.

    From feature films, 2023’s most original work was Rainer Sarnet’s The Invisible Fight / Nähtamatu võitlus. This Orthodox heavy metal kung-fu absurd comedy, produced by Estonia’s Homeless Bob Production in coproduction with Latvia’s White Picture, Greece’s Neda Film and Finland’s Helsinki-Filmi, had its premiere in Locarno’s main competition where it got a lot of attention and started its festival circuit.

    In the world of animation, the short film Eeva by Morten Tšinakov and Lucija Mrzljak, produced by Eesti Joonisfilm and Croatia’s Adriatic Animation, premiered in Berlinale’s Short Film Competition and won several awards over the year, including the Alexeïeff–Parker Award at Annecy, the Grand Jury Prize at Nashville and Best Croatian Film Award at World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb 2023.

    Never Alone by Klaus Härö, credit: Andres TeissA creative documentary, the wonderfully observing Sundial / Päikeseaeg directed by Liis Nimik and produced by Klara Films, gained attention of both Visions du Réel in Nyon and Hot Docs in Toronto.

    Hot Docs also premiered another Estonian documentary, The Last Relic / Viimane reliikvia by Marianna Kaat, a provocative portrait of Russian dissidents in Yekaterinburg before the outbreak of the Ukraine War. The Last Relic won the support of the audience both at home and abroad, winning Best Director at Vitaly Mansky’s ArtDocFest Riga. The film is produced by Baltic Film Production and Norway’s Ten Thousand Images.

    At the Estonian National Film Awards, most wins went to the 2022 historical basketball flick Kalev by Ove Musting, produced by Allfilm in coproduction with Ugri Film, including Best Feature Film and Best Director. The Best Documentary Award went to a portrait of jazz saxophonist Maria Faust called Machina Faust, which was directed by Kaupo Kruusiauk and produced by Flo Film, while the Best Animation Award went to Dog Apartment / Koerkorter directed by Priit Tender and produced by Nukufilm.

    Virgin Maali, the annual award by the Estonian Film Journalists’ Association went to Smoke Sauna Sisterhood as the best film of 2023, given out in the first days on January 2024.


    The Estonian Film Institute launched the ARKAADER platform for Estonian films at the end of 2022, enjoying a highly successful year as a promotional platform for Estonian cinema worldwide. In 2023, the Institute innovated further by introducing a dedicated branch tailored to schools, integrating Estonian films into their educational programmes.

    In 2023 Jupiter, the VOD platform of the Estonian National Broadcast ERR, strengthened its positions, growing mostly because of the renewed television applications for local market.

    The Missile by Miia Tervo, credit: Sami KuokkanenViaplay decided to leave the Baltic market, creating some confusion, especially in the sphere of sports events rights. This exit comes with a bit of regret from the audience because their drama series were quite good, for example Who Killed Otto Müller? directed by René Vilbre.

    The biggest winner after Viaplay’s exit is Go3, which took over their subscriptions and part of the content. A lot of sports related content will also be moving to Go3.

    Elisa is continuing its strong support for financing drama series and sponsoring the Black Nights Film Festival and it deserves credit for that. The third season of the series Traitor directed by Ove Musting, about a Russian spy in Estonian Ministry of Defense, is setting a new bar for domestic TV series.

    The newly resurrected Eesti Telefilm (the film production branch of Soviet Estonian national broadcast) is aiming to produce two additional drama series for VOD. International coproduction deals promise an influx of international funding, starting with Italy and the planned coproduced series Detective von Fock.


    The annual overall box office top ten shows favourable results to local product, because the top six spots are alternating between foreign and domestic releases, and Estonian films compete successfully with big international hits.

    Eeva by Lucija Mrzljak and Morten Tšinakov. copyright: Eesti Joonisfilm, Adriatic AnimationTo no big surprise, the biggest foreign film and the overall winner of the year by a long margin was Barbie with 150,406 admissions, followed by Oppenheimer with 106,785 admissions in the third place and the animated film Super Mario Bros. The Movie in the fifth overall place with 78,162 admissions.

    Estonian broad comedy The Vacationers / Suvitajad (a remake of a national classic Here We Are! from 1978) came in second with 107,095 admissions between the two Barbenheimer entries, another comedy by the same team, Faulty Brides (a remake of a TV play under the same name from 1989) came fourth with 93,713 admissions, while the final episode (at least so far) of the Medieval Melchior crime films, Melchior the Apothecary: The Executioner’s Daughter came sixth with 77,951 admissions.

    The top ten is rounded up by three more animated titles: Elemental at number seven with 59 255 admissions, Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie at eight with 54,173 admissions and Trolls Band Together at ten with 49,569 admissions. Slightly less animated Fast X reached the ninth spot with 52,236 admissions.

    The highest scoring European production was another animated film, France’s Ladybug & Cat Noir: The Movie, which came19th with 36,218 admissions. The highest European live action film was the British/Australian horror movie Talk to Me with 8,192 admissions.

    The domestic top ten was dominated by feature films as expected, with one animated film and one documentary also making the cut. The three aforementioned features were followed by the animated omnibus-film Poop, Spring and Others / Kaka, kevadjateised, produced by A Film Estonia, with 44,794 admissions. Based on five children’s short stories by Andrusk Kivirähk, Kalev by Ove Musting, photo: Allfilmeach episode is directed by a different filmmaker: Heiki Ernits, Meelis Arulepp, Mikk Mägi, René Vilbre and Oskar Lehemaa.

    At spot number five of the domestic chart, we find yet another broad comedy produced by Taska Film and Apollo Film Productions, called Fools of Fame / Kuulsuse narrid directed by Ain Mäeots, which gathered 42,971 admissions. The second half of the top ten in 2023 is refreshingly versatile. The children’s modern tech-comedy Totally Boss / Tähtsad ninad directed by renowned theatre director Ingomar Vihmar making his feature film debut, and produced by Nafta Films, came sixth with 34,107 admissions.

    The nostalgic period comedy about time travel Stairway to Heaven by Mart Kivastik, produced by Filmivabrik, is at place number seven with 33,542 admissions, followed by the documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood with 33,527 admissions, black crypto-comedy Free Money / Vabaraha by Rain Rannu, produced by Tallifornia, with 29,435 admissions and Tanel Toom’s post-apocalyptic thriller The Last Sentinel / Viimane vahipost, produced by Estonia’s Allfilm, Germany’s Kick Film and UK’s Sentinel Entertainment, plus UK’s CrossDay Productions and Stigma Films attached as coproducers, with 19,332 admissions.

    Apollo-affiliated Hea Film continued to dictate the domestic top ten. Seven out of ten titles are distributed by them, ACME is the distributor for Stairway to Heaven and Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, while Tallifornia distributes its own titles, including Free Money.

    All in all, Hea Film has a distribution market share of 75%, pan-Baltic ACME comes second with 13%, the third spot is taken by Tallifornia with 6% and the others follow with smaller shares.

    The American annual market share was up to 64% in 2023 (from 59% in 2022), Estonia is second with 22%, the whole of Europe follows with 12%, leaving the remaining 2% to the rest of the Dog Apartment by Priit Tender, credit: Nukufilmworld.


    The Estonian Film Institute granted 6,009,210 EUR to various national film projects in 2023. Of this amount, 2,804,210 EUR was allocated for the production of eight feature films, 300,000 EUR for the development of six feature films, 80,000 EUR to feature film script support (six projects), 150,000 EUR for the production of three short films, 80,000 EUR for the development of two miniseries, 528,000 EUR for the production of 13 documentaries, and 128,000 EUR for the development of nine documentary projects.

    “Estonian Stories” documentary chronicles and documentary portraits got 134,000 EUR (12 projects), while 30,000 EUR was given for the development and postproduction of two documentary series, and the Tartu 2024 Cultural Capital documentary programme was supported with 120,000 EUR (eight projects).

    Eleven animated films received 881,000 EUR for production, and nine animated projects received 119,000 EUR for development. Nine minority coproductions received 825,000 EUR.

    Production grants went to the following feature films:

    Lioness / Emalõvi by Liina Trishkina-Vanhatalo, produced by Allfilm, Dog / Koer by Rasmus Merivoo, produced by Tallifornia, Our Erika / Meie Erika by German Golub, produced by Filmivabrik, Frank by Tõnis Pill, produced by Allfilm, Looking for the Lost World / Kadunud maailma otsides by Janno Jürgens, produced by Kosmosesügis, Two of Me / Mind on kaks by Traitor series by Ove MustingRaul Esko and Romet Esko, produced by Tallifornia, Long Papers / Pikad paberid by Meel Paliale, produced by Tallifornia, and Serafima and Bogdan by Veiko Õunpuu, produced by Nafta Films.

    To support Estonian film producers' participation in international feature, documentary and animated films, grants are provided to Estonian minority coproducers. In 2023, there were 19 applications for minority coproductions, resulting in grants being awarded to five feature films, one documentary and one short animated film (compared to 23 applications and seven grants in 2022). The main coproducing countries in 2023 were Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Georgia, the U.S., and Armenia. Grants were awarded to 37% of the applications submitted.

    In summary, the highest competition is in the categories of feature films and documentaries, especially regarding production grants. Of the applicants for production grants for feature films and documentaries, 40% and 44%, respectively received funding, while for animated films, the percentage of recipients among applicants was much higher, 73%.

    The Film Estonia cash rebate programme gave out a total of 3.8 m EUR for foreign projects shooting in Estonia. In 2023, most of the projects funded through Film Estonia were minority coproductions already listed earlier (Never Alone, The Missile, Orenda, The Swedish Torpedo and Apathy), as well as the ambitious eight-part series Estonia about the sinking of the MS Estonia ferry in 1994, which was created by Finland’s Miikko Oikonen, directed by Måns Månsson and Juuso Syrjä, and produced by Finland’s Fisher King Productions in coproduction with Estonia’s Amrion, Sweden’s Kärnfilm and Belgium’s Panache Productions. With a 15 m EUR budget, it is the most expensive TV series Free Money by Rain Rannu, credit: Talliforniaproduced in Finland or Estonia.


    It could be noticed in 2023 that Estonian TV audience gradually grew more and more weary of hard themes like wars and disasters. Light entertainment was on the rise, mostly offered by commercial channels TV3 and Kanal 2, rather than national broadcast. In 2023, the ratings of the TV channels remained more or less the same, but Kanal 2 went up a little, due to the mentioned change in preferences, and more economical and flexible programming policy. 

    The TV series in Estonia are still mainly coproduced between bigger linear TV channels and telecom companies, but in general the numbers of domestic TV series remained below expectations in 2023. 



    Uus 3, Tallinn 10111
    Two of Me by Raul and Romet Esko, credit: Meel PalialePhone: +372 627 60 60
    Fax: +372 627 60 61
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    Suur-Karja 23, Tallinn 10148
    Phone: +372 699 9150
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    Roo 9, Tallinn 10611
    Contact: Mari Kivi
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    Vilmsi 53g, 10147 Tallinn
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    Uus 3, Tallinn 10111
    Phone: +372 646 4068
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    Contact: Marika Streimann

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    Contact: Piret Tibbo-Hudgins

    ESTONIAN SOCIETY OF CINEMATOGRAPHERS ESCEstonia TV series, source: Fisher King Oy

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    Contact: Moonika Siimets and LiinaTrishkina-Vanhatalo

    Eesti Stsenaristide Gild:
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    Contact: Lauri Lippmaa

    Uus 5, Tallinn 10111
    Phone: +372 646 4517
    Fax: +372 646 4516
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    Narvamnt 11e, Tallinn 10151
    Phone: +372 669 8210
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    Contact: Andrei Liimets

    Vikerlase 13-62, Tallinn 13616
    The Invisible Fight by Rainer Sarnet, credit: Homeless Bob ProductionPhone: +372 632 4662; +372 55 46042
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    Contact: Raivo Olmet

    Pirita road 56, 10127 Tallinn
    Phone: +372 6 968 600; +372 5620 8875
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    Contact: Sten Kauber

    Koidu 17-1, 10137 Tallinn
    Phone: +372 6015982
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    Ristiku 84, Tallinn 10318
    Phone: +372 693 8613
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    Report by Tristan Priimägi (2024)
    Sources: the Estonian Film Institute (EFI), the Cultural Endowment of Estonia

    Checked by Edith Sepp, EFI