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Estonia’s Next Big Challenge: the Transition from e-State to e-Industry


Anneli Heinsoo

Anneli Heinsoo. Photo by Life in Estonia. Text by Marge Tubalkain / Postimees.

Information technology is transforming the face of industry by creating a quiet revolution and changing the way factories function forever.

Industry and IT are no longer separate and discrete sectors from one another. ‘Just as the educational landscape is moving in the direction of interdisciplinary learning (ICT and economics in every field of study), industrial sectors are interlinked with ICT,’ says Anneli Heinsoo, Chair of the Board of the Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications (ITL) and Manager of Tieto Estonia AS.

According to Anneli, there needs to be a developmental leap in industry, with the key words being information and putting it into smart use.

‘The greatest industrial nations of the world, such as Germany, the USA and China are taking positive steps in this direction. Through the integration of IT and production processes, a great volume of valuable information can be made accessible and analysable,’ explains Heinsoo. She believes that the Estonian ICT sector is of a high quality and is a valuable partner for co-operation with industrial enterprises in Estonia and abroad: ‘Through joint projects we can lead the way with the best in the world,’ she says.

Estonia is renowned as an e-state. We have been the first to offer outsiders e-Residency as well as many other internal services – for example participating in elections without needing to get up from your desk. The state information system, called X-Road, was created by the Estonian company Cybernetica and brings together people, authorities and companies. Its decentralised nature enables a similar model to be used by industrial enterprises. Estfeed is a project from the Estonian network company Elering which links energy producers and -consumers with each other, offering innovative services.

Investments in ICT are the key to success

Heinsoo says that the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 necessitates a radical change in thinking. First and foremost, the managers of industrial enterprises need to ask themselves if they are happy with the current state of resources, reliability of work processes, productivity and security of provision: ‘Does the market require more flexible and faster product development, are they able to compete with their products considering a personal approach to customers and rapidly changing needs; is the accessibility of raw materials rapid enough; is production quick enough within the whole supply chain and without any setbacks, and so on,’ she says, citing some examples.

All of this requires investment. Whereas up to now, industrial enterprises have invested in capital equipment, Industry 4.0 requires investment in IT. This would include Information technology solutions or data management, the monitoring and surveillance of processes, a higher level of automation and integrity monitoring, all of which would enable the saving of costs on equipment.

‘The Estonian state has the opportunity to support the digitalisation of production through its industrial policy. If Estonian industrial enterprises are ready to invest in innovation and development activity and to reach their goals successfully, then Estonia could set an example right up there with other successful industrial countries in the world. It would definitely increase our visibility globally and would provide an impetus for industrial enterprises and ICT companies to increase exports,’ believes Heinsoo. It would also attract interest from large corporations who would see Estonia as a viable investment environment for production and product development.

The necessary spectre of change in companies is vast. Heinsoo says companies should start with analysis and bring in experienced IT companies as partners. The purpose of such collaboration is not dealing with specific concerns, but longer-term cooperation.

Estonia as a ‘smart production’ state

It is vital to understand that nothing will change without the training of employees – smarter jobs require training and re-learning.

What will happen to jobs is a question which receives a different answer depending who you ask. According to research by the World Economic Forum, 7.1 million jobs will disappear, mainly ‘white collar’ and management jobs. At the same time, about 2.1 million new jobs will be created, mainly in the fields of mathematics and engineering. At the same time the research company Boston Consulting Group predicts that whereas some jobs will disappear as a result of this ‘industrial revolution’, an equal number of jobs will be created in information technology and data science.

Heinsoo says that jobs are declining in the processing industry even without the fourth industrial revolution. At the same time the average salary in Estonia is rising each year – the gross monthly salary of the third quarter in 2015 was 1045 Euros, or 7 per cent higher than the year before.

Changing markets create the need for re-training

As a result those industrial enterprises which need a cheap labour force as their main criteria, are moving away from Estonia anyway. ‘Estonia is not interested in being an outstanding state for its cheap labour force, but a state which stands out because of its smart production. Our aim is to increase added value in industry by creating smarter jobs, and it is our ambitious plan to retrain people according to the requirements and needs of the new market,’ Heinsoo says. This is where the state and companies have to work closely together. New smart jobs are created and relevant re-training programmes assist in this process.

Many activities in the name of smarter jobs are already underway in Estonia. The Estonian ICT sector is actively investing in cooperation with universities and promoting technological education from as early as primary school age. For example in March this year, the ICT sector organised a focus month ‘Success through science subjects,’ during which they made presentations in schools about the importance of studying sciences and its links with potential future careers. In April the Estonian IT sector representatives are due to provide students with an overview of what they are looking for in their employees.

‘Of course this is far from being the whole story, but we have made a start. We rely on universities with the capacity to accept foreign students to study ICT and we are trying to create the opportunity for those students to stay to work in Estonia for at least five years,’ says Heinsoo.

Attracting talent to Estonia

The state is also supporting those moving to Estonia. Enterprise Estonia has initiated the programme Work in Estonia, which introduces Estonia and our favourable working environment in target countries. The first campaign took place in Finland, where we presented working opportunities to IT sector specialists. Another target country is Ukraine, where over 60 per cent of new residents came from in 2015.

‘It is a great initiative for foreign ICT specialists and of course for other fields for recruitment by local ICT companies,’ says Heinsoo. IT companies such as Pipedrive, Playtech and Relax Gaming as well as Tieto, managed by Heinsoo herself, have been looking for employees through this programme.

According to Heinsoo the Estonian ICT sector has shown great initiative in bringing international know-how and experience into Estonia, in order to raise the awareness of industrial enterprises about the new industrial revolution. They have been working for three years on this goal.

‘Interest usually increases when you can show success stories and share the practical experiences of industrial enterprises. I believe there is interest and the industrial sector clearly sees that future success depends on an innovative approach and the courage to make investments in development work. But there is still a lack of a clear and complete picture of what the concrete activities should be,’ Heinsoo adds.

In order to find answers to the question of how this is to be done, the ITL, The Estonian Union of Electronics Industry, Enterprise Estonia and the Embassy of Germany in Estonia are for the second year in a row introducing the opportunities and best practices of industrial digitalisation to industry leaders at the Industry 4.0 in Practice conference, which brings together experts from Estonia, the Nordics and Germany. The conference will take place from 2-3 June 2016 in Tallinn.

Find out more here.

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 or the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is a relatively new term, having been coined in Germany, whose government used it in the sense of bringing production and IT closer together. Half a billion Euros was invested in this. The term was first used publicly at the 2011 Hannover fair. Different countries use different names for their industrial revolutions and their goals also vary. For example, the Chinese have ‘Made in China’, which aims to innovate the labour force, production, management and quality control; the Dutch have Smart Factory; the French have l’usine du futur, and the British have the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Private enterprises have created the Industrial Internet Consortium. Whilst the names and approaches differ, they all share a similar aim.

Industry 4.0 is not a new technology or a business model – it is about doing things differently, in order to raise competitiveness, productivity and the security of provision. For example, it includes Internet of Things (IoT), analytics and the automation of production. It enables us to raise the quality of management and to improve the supply chain, to produce more cheaply and to be more flexible.

Everybody Knows Wi-Fi. But Have You Met Li-Fi?


Jugnu Velmenni

Photos by Velmenni. Text by Holger Roonemaa / Eesti Päevaleht.

Most of us are used to having wireless internet at home. It has become a basic part of everyday life. In much the same way as when we switch on the light, we don’t think about the chain connection which takes electricity into the lightbulb inside a lamp which then lights up the room, when we use a Wi-Fi connection, we do not even think about it.

The Estonian-Indian startup Velmenni is developing technology which in the near future may turn your understanding of your home internet connection and the LED bulb on the ceiling upside down. The technology is called Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) and it is based on transferring data with the help of visible light. ‘Whereas Wi-Fi sends information through air via radio waves, Li-Fi will get analogous information from light,’ explains Anders Martoja, an engineer at Velmenni. In essence it means blinking the LED bulb at a very high speed and at a certain rhythm. This blinking is so fast that it is not visible to the human eye.

‘This rhythm is what differentiates normal LED light from data. Via light we transfer a series of ones and zeroes, which the equipment can take and turn into understandable information,’ explains Martoja. Li-Fi technology was invented five years ago by Harald Haas at the University of Edinburgh. But Velmenni is the first to take the technology from lab tests to testing it under normal conditions. Li-Fi can offer up to 100 times more speed than the Wi-Fi technology currently in use.

The Velmenni team stunned audiences for the first time in the autumn of last year at the Slush startup conference in Helsinki, where they made it to the final shortlist. Before Velmenni’s participation in Slush, nobody had heard of Li-Fi tests outside of the lab.

The product, which the company hopes to take onto the market soon, looks from the outside like a normal LED bulb.

‘I wouldn’t say it’s a new kind of LED bulb; It is more of a smart-bulb. Just as phones became smart-phones, we have given the LED bulb a “brain” – it is able to do a little bit more now,’ explains Martoja.

According to Martoja, Li-Fi could offer amazingly fast data connection in interiors and exterior conditions, in overcrowded mass events, but also data connection security. For example to download one 50-60 GB Blu-ray film, which takes 20 minutes right now with even the fastest Wi-Fi, would take Li-Fi only two to three seconds. With such speed there is of course the question whether your home internet service provider (ISP) can offer a high connectivity from their end.

In lab conditions, the highest theoretical Li-Fi speed reached has been 224 GBps, Velmenni’s tests in normal conditions provide the speed of 1 GBps. ‘Tests outside the lab have gone well. We have made many discoveries, our technology has positively surprised us and we have also identified a few flaws in our technology which we are now working to eliminate,’ says Martoja. For example, whereas the team initially thought they would be able to transfer data to a distance of 20 metres, the results have shown that the initial prototype can send data to 30+ metres successfully. ‘Furthermore our theoretical speed of 10Mbps has been tested in real life and it works,’ Martoja goes on.

Amongst other reasons, Li-Fi technology is specialized because there is a need for a so-called eye connection between two appliances such as the LED-bulb and the user’s telephone. There must be no obstacles on the way of the light spreading. ‘This is also something we are working on, to make data transfer possible also when the light is only touching the wall and our appliance might read the necessary information from the reflection,’ says Martoja.

On the one hand the need for eye-connection could be seen as a drawback, for example it cannot pass through walls and hence the connectivity area is limited. On the other hand, this still gives an advantage over Wi-Fi. This is that the need for eye-connection means that Li-Fi is in fact hacker-proof. ‘VLC data transfers cannot be “bugged”, because this can only happen when the user lets a third appliance be installed in between the VLC lamp and their appliance,’ according to Martoja.

But who should start to use Li-Fi and where? ‘Li-Fi seems to have a bright future with a broad use,’ believes Martoja, alluding to the fact that even Apple has announced that it will try to implement it in its appliances. ‘Li-Fi offers good opportunities in industrial settings and mass events. I wouldn’t say that it is only suited to one field. Li-Fi can ideally be used in home environments. At the moment it seems that when it does come on to the market, it will complement Wi-Fi, but I would like to say that it could also replace it in the future,’ he goes on.

The leader of the Velmenni team is Deepak Solanki from India. Deepak is one of only several Indians on the team, for example the CTO Saurabh Garg. Shivam Setia has also joined the hardware team and Pariskshit Dutt the software team. Martoja, who is soon to graduate in IT from the University of Tartu, is in fact the only Estonian on the team. ‘We are all engineers in spirit and this is what at the moment sets us apart from everyone else,’ he believes.

Solanki and his colleagues came to Estonia thanks to the hardware accelerator Buildit, located in the university town of Tartu. The company has also been registered in Estonia. In addition to Solanki and Garg, the circle of company owners includes the Buildit accelerator. ‘We are in negotiations with other investors and now we have to finish these,’ says Martoja.

In spring the entire team is set to move from Tartu to Hamburg, where they have a place at the Airbus Bizlab accelerator. The main goal of the participation in BizLab for Velmenni is linked to bringing a working product onto the market. The accelerator has given Velmenni five months to demonstrate their results. In addition to Bizlab, Velmenni is involved in a pilot project with Airbus, in order to offer Li-Fi on their airplanes in the future. ‘We also got the opportunity to participate in the Hyperloop project, which is Elon Musk’s vision about fifth type transport,’ says Martoja.

Deepak Solanki, the leader of the Velmenni team.

Deepak Solanki, the leader of the Velmenni team.

Extremely intelligent young engineers

a comment by Aleksander Tõnnisson / 
co-founder and CEO of BuildIt hardware accelerator

Buildit Hardware Accelerator is an early-stage investment fund looking for startup teams building hardware and having global focus. We have negotiated with startups from more than 50 countries and have invested into teams from 15+ different countries. Two of those investments have gone to Indian-staffed teams, including Velmenni.

Velmenni founders struck us as extremely intelligent and ambitious young talented engineers. Throughout the accelerator program, they showed good progress, launched their first pilot project and were selected to the top-4 SLUSH startups out of 1500+ contestants. Their last video had more than 12 million views in just a week.

Bringing visible light communication to the consumer level is extremely ambitious though. And there are still lot of mountains to climb before this technology becomes viable. Currently Velmenni is working together with AirBus on a solution to cast high quality video wirelessly in commercial airplanes. I definitely have very high hopes for their success.

Delivery Robots Created by Estonian Engineers Are Transforming the World


DeliveryRobots 1

Starship delivery robot. Photos by Starship. Text by Toivo Tänavsuu / Eesti Ekspress.

Estonian company Starship Technologies is building some revolutionary delivery robots which have already started cruising the sidewalks in Estonia, Britain and will soon the U.S. The company is relying on a number of impressive friends and fans to help with their PR.

Last November brought some fascinating news from Estonia: led by the co-founders of Skype Ahti Heinla and Dane Janus Friis, a team of Estonian engineers have created an autonomous delivery robot the size of a shopping basket. According to the concept, those robots will deliver everything from shopping bags to internet purchases, pizzas and many other things, freeing us from wasting time and energy on such daily chores.

Over the week since the news broke on 2 November, nearly a thousand publications and more than a hundred television stations from all over the world, including CNN, BBC and The New York Times, have been talking about this Estonian miracle on wheels.

Hundreds of businesses have approached the company with the question: when can we buy it? Chief Operating Officer Allan Martinson says that his inbox has come to resemble Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: letters from places as diverse as shopping centres, launderettes, bakeries, movie producers, amusement parks and golf courses. The robot has even been invited to feature in a sci fi movie. And perhaps the crowning glory, the US rapper Snoop Dogg announced online that he wants to buy one immediately.

Work on the robot started in 2014 but the company managed successfully to keep it under wraps. The six-wheeled ‘shopping baskets’ may be stylish and cute, but where are they allowed to drive? And is it possible to lower the price of an autonomous robot enough that it can reach the masses (the aim is to bring the cost of delivery below $1)?

Bold vision: no more home cooking

‘I’d like to take 150-200 robots as quickly as possible with perhaps 10 000 in the future!’ says James Poulter, CEO of the London-based food delivery company to Eesti Ekspress. ‘As fast as possible. Pronto brings fresh warm meals to London homes and offices within 20 minutes. Starship would mean so much more than just cheaper home deliveries,’ says Poulter.

‘Supermarkets will run out of clients. People will no longer need kitchens at home. Nobody will need to clean their own water anymore - it will all be done centrally. In London almost nobody has their own car anymore – it is too expensive, everyone takes public transport. In the same way, it will no longer make sense to cook at home. Or to spend 100 000 pounds on building a kitchen. Starship will deliver a tasty and high-quality meal straight to your door – and much cheaper than going to the supermarket,’ envisions Poulter.

Friis and Heinla, who became multi-millionaires with Skype, teamed up with serial entrepreneur Allan Martinson who runs the business side of the company. In Britain the ambassador for the delivery robot is a former MP with Estonian roots, Lembit Öpik.

In autumn, Öpik took Starship to the UK Parliament at Westminster, where dozens of MPs and several government members took the chance to find out more about it.

And last week the robot participated in a promotional event at the German Bundestag. Öpik says: ‘Starship gives people back the time which they currently spend on shopping.’

Starship at the British Parliament in London winning new fans. From left: MPs Nigel Evans and Mary Robinson, Ahti Heinla and Allan Martinson from Starship Technologies and the British politician with Estonian roots, Lembit Öpik.

Starship at the British Parliament in London winning new fans. From left: MPs Nigel Evans and Mary Robinson, Ahti Heinla and Allan Martinson from Starship Technologies and the British politician with Estonian roots, Lembit Öpik.

Legislation can both impede and support

Legislation on the movement of robots on pedestrian streets varies from country to country and, in the USA alone, from one state to another. Actually in most countries there is no relevant legislation as, for example, the British traffic legislation dates back 180 years. In Germany robots will need special permission to cruise on pavements and but in neighbouring Austria they are already completely legal.

According to Martinson, Starship can operate freely in a market of approximately 150 million people today, in other areas two questions need to be solved: the robot has no driver inside (at best it would fit a hamster but not a human being!) and it traverses pavements, crossing streets like a pedestrian (so should cars give way, for instance?).

One of the more pressing questions for the Starship team was where to look for examples in finding their way through the legislative maze. They discovered that more than ten years ago another company faced a very similar legal challenge – the well-known two-wheeled scooter Segway was similarly a new class of device with no clear regulations governing it. So the Starship team met the creator of Segway, legendary American inventor and businessman Dean Kamen, who became a big fan of Starship. In the USA, it is the same team which helped bring Segway onto the roads which is now making way for Starship.

On that side of the pond, the Estonians are being supported by the former US Congressman Charles Bass. According to him, before Segway, nobody could imagine that vehicles other than bikes or wheelchairs would be able to travel on sidewalks. Officials were afraid of the new vehicles. For example, the famous New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced that Segways would never drive on the streets of that city. Legislators were tempted to classify Segway as a motor vehicle (which would have meant the need for airbags etc.) and to ban its use on public sidewalks.
After three to four years of heavy lobbying, Segway was welcome in most states. Thus Starship could hardly have found itself a better advocate in America.

Bass cannot rule out that various interest groups, such as people with disabilities, delivery companies or even pet owners, will be opposed to Starship on the streets. So there is a need to be prepared to do a lot of advocacy.

In just half a year, the Estonian robots have driven over a thousand test miles: in Mustamäe in Tallinn, London, Boston and San Fransisco. In Mustamäe, Starship has its own one hectare large testing polygon – an artificial city with pavements, lights and other things.

It is planned to increase the test kilometre count to over 40 000 by the summer. This testing is just as intensive as Google with its self-driving cars.

Robot likes a low-density town

The tests observe how people relate to the robots and, surprisingly enough, most do not pay any attention to it passing. Martinson confirms that not a single case of anti-robot behaviour has been detected. On the contrary, there have been attempts to pet it, to feed it and to hug it.

The impression that it is easy to steal the Starship itself or the package locked under its cover, is a false one. ‘At any precise time when a thief is trying to get to grips with the robot, he is being observed by nine cameras, his location is known and the robot operator is able to “talk” to him via the speakers,’ explains Martinson. ‘Other robots in the vicinity will then come to help, a drone will fly overhead and soon the police will arrive. Hence if anyone wants to steal something, it is easier for a would-be thief to smash in a car window.’

Ahti Heinla confirms that Starship plans to be the first autonomous vehicle in the world’s public space. Autonomous cars still have a long way to go. Not only that but delivering post by drones seems also to be questionable: if a drone falls for instance, it may injure someone. But Starship is slow, light and safe: it can even drive over your foot and nothing will happen.

‘All of us have a suitcase at home and we do not particularly consider it to be a life-threatening object,’ says Martinson by way of comparison. ‘Drones also have their advantages: they can fly over sea and land. Starship is not meant for longer distances than five kilometres. So to bring aspirin and a beer from Tallinn to Kiisa would be better done with a drone,’ he explains.

Starship was born after Heinla and Estonian engineers participated at the NASA moon robots competition. After returning from the competition in the USA in summer 2014, he met his old friend Friis in London and thought about how to change the world of robotics for the better. Bringing samples of rock from far away planets (a task at the NASA competition) was fun, but has no impact on ordinary people.

‘We found that robots could be much more useful in agriculture, cleaning and package delivery,’ says Heinla. ‘In the case of cleaning it seemed difficult to come up with something better than a robot vacuum cleaner. We do not know much about agriculture. But everyone has some experience of package delivery.’

Starship is not suited to drive around in every city. It would get in the way of the vast crowds in Calcutta or Mumbai. Even the city centre of Tallinn is not so robot-friendly at peak hours. The ideal town for Starship is low-density, where the robot is not passed by more than three people per minute.

As the robot will just be delivering the package to the front of the address and not bring it up in an elevator or staircase, it would be pretty strange to order a pizza in a Hong Kong high-rise and to then discover that the whole front of the building is full of robots.

Starship robots, which still do not have a name (the name competition is ongoing, personal names rather than appliance names are being looked for), will start to offer pilot services in many countries this year.

So why not have your groceries delivered home and the newspapers taken to you by a robot?!


DeliveryRobots 2

> Developed by Starship Technologies, founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis. The company employs approximately fifty staff in Tallinn and London, about twenty of which are Estonian engineers.

> The robot weighs 15-18 kg (it is hoped to reduce the weight to 10 kg), and drives up to 6 km/h.

> The equipment includes 6 wheels (it can drive over curbs up to 15 cm), 9 cameras (giving it 360 degree vision), GPS, microphone, speaker and internet connection. A 1.5 metre illuminated banner makes the robots visible to cars.

> Senses an approaching car from the distance of 100-200 metres.

> Drives autonomously up to 99 per cent of the time, though the working area needs to be mapped carefully before. Energy-efficient and totally harmless to the environment.

> Fits 2-3 shopping bags, 10-13 kg goods in total.

> Makes the so-called last kilometres delivery services up to 15 times cheaper in comparison with courier services (couriers drive big diesel vehicles, stopping at every house, the robot literally puts wheels under the package itself).

> The market is estimated to be huge: 20 billion packages are sent in Europe and America annually and 130 billion visits are made to a store (often a shop which is near the home).

Cash Rebate – a New Boost for Estonian Film Industry


The Fencer

The Fencer.

The Estonian Film Institute (EFI) launched a new cash rebate system at this year’s Berlinale to attract more international film productions to Estonia. According to Edith Sepp, the CEO of the EFI, Estonia is at last a front-rank country for film production.

The goal of the EFI’s support scheme, Film Estonia, is to attract new foreign filmmakers and crews to film in Estonia, thereby fostering the influx of foreign capital into the Estonian economy.

The rebate fund will refund up to 30 per cent of local production costs depending on the degree of involvement of local professionals. The highest rate of refund applies to films where the storyline takes place in Estonia itself.

During the first year of the launch the fund will repay up to 
500 000 euros; the budget for 2017 is 2 million euros.

Estonia is the last of three Baltic countries to enter the cash rebate market, so what’s the advantage?

Edith Sepp explains: ‘We are offering a very non-bureaucratic system that is easy and quick. Every foreign producer can understand it, so there is no need to hire a lawyer!’ The EFI will audit the production after the costs have been made and process a rapid payment.

Lithuania has had a great experience already within the first year of the cash rebate system, with several BBC productions completed and more interest from the British film industry coming in.

Film Estonia:

The Estonian Film Institute has launched a new cash-rebate scheme – Film Estonia. The goal of the EFI’s support scheme is to attract new foreign filmmakers and crews to film in Estonia. The new fund will be open to applications from legal entities registered in Estonia whose main area of activity is the production of audiovisual works and whose partner is a foreign film production company.

Film Estonia will allocate support for the production or post-production of full-length feature films, full-length animation films, short animation films, animation series, quality television series or documentary films.

Next deadlines for applications: 24 May 24 and 8 November 2016.

More information

The Poll Diaries

The Poll Diaries.

Sepp points out that Estonia’s advantage is its long tradition of film industry: ‘Estonian film is 100 years old, and even during Soviet rule we had a very successful industry. So people have a good professional experience – and what’s also important, a very good command of English. Today of course the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn focuses on new technologies and grows new talent for the industry.’

Estonians are already well-known for being somewhat tech-obsessed, and film people are no exception here. The Digital Sputnik film lighting company run by brothers Kaur and Kaspar Kallas is just one bright example of this, which has launched sophisticated new LED film lighting technology successfully with big budget international productions such as ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Independence Day’.

The new cash rebate system is applicable for the production or post-production of full-length feature films, full-length animation films, short animation films, animation series, quality television series and documentary films. The fund has established minimum limits for the budgets of projects they support – for example, a feature film must have a minimum budget of one million Euros to apply. In addition to the cash rebate there are two regional funds as well which support international productions in the Tartu and Ida-Virumaa regions.

What’s in it for Estonian film?

Edith Sepp explains: ‘The more that people have experience with international co-productions, the better it is for the Estonian cinema as well – we can raise the level of our national cinema. Work keeps people competitive and keeps the national cinema alive.’

Doubtless the recent success of two Estonian co-productions has given a boost to the whole industry.

‘Tangerines’ made it to the final five nominees of both Golden Globes and Oscars in 2015. Sepp says this was just a case of being at the right place at the right time.

‘Previously we always selected a local highly artistic film to run for Oscars,’ she says. ‘This time we thought about which topic could matter for the whole world. Usually we just submitted the film and left it alone; this time we did a marketing campaign and hired an agent in the US. It was a fair amount of legwork, and for the first time we actually sent the producer to the US for two months to meet academy members. The producers were then able to explain the geographic and historical context and people started to understand the story. Global political development kept the topic very up to date as well. The major drawback was, however, that we didn’t have a distributor in the US before the Oscars.’

Estonian filmmakers have learned a lot from this experience. As Sepp puts it, it was nothing less than a jump from the 19th century to the 21st.

‘The Fencer’ – a co-production from Finland, Estonia and Germany reached the five finalists of the Golden Globes in 2015. This is also a great breakthrough for Finnish cinema, and having gone through the process last year Estonian producers could share their experience.

Coming up – to celebrate the centennial of the Estonian Republic in 2018, the government has given grants and funding to five films at a level never seen before in this country. Hopes are running high for all these productions, specifically that they will reach the competition programs in both Berlinale and Cannes.

Some examples of co-production movies filmed in Estonia:

The Poll Diaries (2010)
Estonian-German-Austrian co-production
Director: Chris Kraus
Producers: Alexandra and Meike Kordes, 
Riina Sildos, and Danny Krausz
Production companies: Kordes&Kordes GMBH, Dor Film, and Amrion OÜ

Set in the early 20th century, ‘The Poll Diaries’ paints a unique picture of a Baltic German estate in Estonia on the crossroads of the German Empire and Tsarist Russia. The haunting manor house, seemingly floating on stilts above the sea, period decorations, sensitive camerawork and film music succeed in creating an enchanting world on the verge of collapse.

The set decorations were constructed in Matsiranna, near Varbla. The location had a long boat dock which linked the estate with the sea and which was built specially for the movie.

King of Devil’s Island (2010)
Norwegian-French-Polish-Swedish co-production
Director: Marius Holst
Producer: Karin Julsrud, 
Estonian production manager Pille Rünk
Production companies: Opus Film, and Allfilm

In the beginning of the 20th century there was a youth prison on the Bastoy island near Oslo, where socially outcast boys lived under the sadistic regime of prison guards. Instead of receiving an education, the 11-18 year old boys were forced to carry out hard labour and had no option but to adjust to the inhumane conditions. A new inmate leads the boys in a violent riot. How far is he willing to go in the name of freedom?

The filming mostly took place in Estonia, at the Kalvi manor house and other locations in Viru county

1944 (2015)
Estonian-Finnish co-production
Director: Elmo Nüganen
Producers: Kristian Taska, Maria Avdjushko, 
and Ilkka Y.L. Matila
Production companies: Taska Film and 
MRP Matila Röhr Productions

The film deals with the World War II events in Estonia in 1944. We see the war through the eyes of Estonian soldiers who were forced to pick sides and fight on both sides in the conflict, either the German Army or the Red Army, sometimes killing fellow countrymen in the process. Choices must be made not only by the soldiers, but also by those close to them.

The filming took place at the Tapa Military Polygon, in Valga and in Tallinn.



Estonian films in 2015:

> 7 new full length feature films
> 1.4-million-euro box office from 
Estonian films
> 350 000 viewers in Estonia. Estonians go to the cinema on average 2.6 times annually – one of the highest percentages in Europe
> Average ticket price 5 euros
> Total box office 15.5 million euros

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Quick facts

Capital Tallinn
Language Estonian
Area 45,228 km2
Population 1,340,415
Currency EUR
Time zone UTC+2
Drives on the right
Internet .ee
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EU member 1 May 2004

Toomas Hendrik Ilves
President of Estonia

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