Do international students watch Estonian films? What to watch and where?

While I am working at the University of Tartu as Head of International Marketing, I am actually a student as well. An opportunity to connect my studies and my work came this spring when we had to conduct a pilot study on a freely chosen topic. I chose, of course, international students and connected it with my other great love – films. I asked current international students of UT whether they have watched any Estonian films and the results may… not surprise you. In the second part of this blog, I will try to fix this by giving you a list of films to watch and an overview of the channels where you can watch them.

Estonian films are not popular among international students

The survey was conducted among 17 international students via Google Forms, which turned out to be a surprisingly useful and easy survey tool (I’d definitely recommend it). Most of them were master’s students, about a quarter PhD students, and there was only one bachelor’s student. In total, 13 nationalities were represented, with the most popular countries being Ukraine (3), the US, and India (both 2).

Almost 60% of students said that they had not seen an Estonian film. They mentioned that they did not know any good ones, did not know where to watch them, and they believed that they had no access to them. Lack of time, perceived low quality of Estonian films, and a dislike of reading subtitles were also mentioned.

“I want to watch (Chasing) Unicorns, but it is not available on streaming services.”

Here you go – you can rent it here.

Ükssarvik (Chasing Unicorns). Image credit: Eesti Filmi Andmebaas
Ükssarvik (Chasing Unicorns). Image credit: Eesti Filmi Andmebaas

Most students who had seen an Estonian film had done so already in Estonia. The most-watched films were “1944” and “Seltsimees laps”. Watching “Seltsimees laps” is actually mandatory in an Estonian language class. The most popular channel which the respondents had used to watch an Estonian movie was to download it from the Internet.

Wikipedia was the most popular information source for Estonian films, followed by friends and family, fellow students, lecturers, cinema websites, social media, and IMDb. There is a serious lack of information on the Wikipedia pages of Estonian films, though, for example, most films do not even have a summary written on their page. Surprisingly, the university does not provide information about Estonian films either, with 60% saying that they had received no information from the university.

Around 40% of students said that they do not know of any channels to watch Estonian films. ETV and ETV2 (Estonian Public Broadcasting, ERR) were among the known channels; however, these are perceived as just random TV channels, and there is no knowledge that it is possible to stream older content from Jupiter, ERR’s video portal.

All participants said that they would watch Estonian films if offered, but most of them are not actively looking for Estonian films by themselves. Almost 60% of respondents had not seen any advertisements for Estonian films.

“It is difficult to find a film to watch, as most of them do not have English subtitles. Russian, yes, but most international students do not speak Russian.”

The participants were given a list of reasons to watch an Estonian film. The most important reasons were a general interest in foreign films, the student’s Estonian language studies, and wanting to know Estonian culture. The least important reasons were a requirement by the student’s course, suggestions by professors/lecturers, and something to do with fellow international students during a film night.

Respondents would prefer to watch Estonian films either at home, at a cinema, or during a film festival. Public screenings organised by different organisations (university, student organisations, etc.) are of interest as well.

In conclusion:

  • There is a lack of knowledge about Estonian films among international students and it should be addressed by the relevant parties.
  • International students are interested in watching Estonian films in order to get to know Estonian language and culture, but are not actively seeking them by themselves or believe that they do not have access to them anyway. Cultural evenings, screening Estonian films during film festivals, more promotion in English language on social media and in the university’s facilities or by the university might solve this issue.
  • Making older Estonian movies available with English language subtitles and introducing international students to channels where they could watch them, preferably for free, would be beneficial.
  • International students are an important target group that Estonian film distributors, ERR, and other relevant parties should consider. There are over 5000 international students studying in Estonia and the number is only increasing.

You can download the full report of the results from here.

Estonian films to watch (and where)

While researching this topic, I realised how little information there is available for internationals on Estonian films. There are barely any lists of must-watch films and no explanation on where to watch Estonian films in general. No wonder internationals haven’t seen many Estonian films if we, Estonians, don’t provide them with necessary info and hide our film industry (according to one of my friends, it is a good thing though considering the somewhat poor reputation of Estonian film industry). The following list of Estonian films is by no means comprehensive and it is subjective (a shout-out to my Facebook friends!), but it will definitely help you navigate the landscape of Estonian film.

Firstly, where to watch Estonian films?

  • – this is kind of like the Netflix of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR), which operates ETV, ETV2 and ETV+. The portal features all of their own content, as well as whatever has recently aired on any of their TV channels. Everything is freely available when you stream it in Estonia. If you live abroad, ERR’s own content is accessible all over the world, but everything else is restricted to the EU, Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein, and you must be a resident of Estonia to access it. The other bad thing? The portal is only in Estonian and most of their content does not have subtitles or they are only in Russian. If you work for ERR and are reading this article, please tell your bosses that there are foreigners in Estonia who’d like to watch Estonian content!
  • – probably the best streaming channel for Estonian films. For a couple of euros, you can rent most of the famous Estonian films with English subtitles. The best part is that you can do it wherever you are located. The goal of the portal is to make Estonian films accessible everywhere.
  • – a streaming platform for both Estonian and foreign films, but it seems to be directed to Estonians, with most films not having subtitles and the website is in Estonian. Surprisingly, Estonian Film Database refers English speakers there.
  • SVOD providers: Telia TV, Apollo TV, Go3, Elisa Elamus

Most of the following films are available on if not stated otherwise.

The classics

  • Viimne Reliikvia (The Last Relic, 1969) – this is truly an Estonian cult film, a must-watch. You can watch it here for free for the next 34 days if you can speak Russian.
  • Kevade (Spring, 1969) – a feel-good family film, based on a book by Oskar Luts. All Estonians know the first line of the book: “Kui Arno isaga koolimajja jõudis…”. In 2012, it was chosen as the best film of the century.
  • Siin me oleme! (Here we are!, 1978) – the most famous catchphrase from the film, “We’re from Tallinn, we’ll pay!” is still used today to mock the supposed superiority of people who live in the capital. Unfortunately, I could not find the film with English or Russian subtitles, so watch it when you have studied a bit of Estonian. It is permanently available on Jupiter.
  • Mehed ei nuta (Men Don’t Cry, 1969) – 1969 was really a good year for Estonian films. This is my absolute favourite old Estonian comedy. Unfortunately, again, no subtitles, so Estonian language skills are needed. It is permanently available on Jupiter.

New classics

  • Tõde ja õigus (Truth and Justice, 2019) – the biggest film from the last years, an epic drama which has won multiple awards and was shortlisted for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.
  • Mandariinid (Tangerines, 2013) – our only feature film that has been nominated for an Oscar! And for a good reason – it is a gem that should teach everybody a lesson or two about human values.
Tõde ja õigus (Truth and Justice) Image credit: Eesti Filmi Andmebaas
Tõde ja õigus (Truth and Justice) Image credit: Eesti Filmi Andmebaas

Patriotic war films

  • Nimed Marmortahvlil (Names in Marble, 2002) – I was a teenager when I saw it, and I really felt like I could go to war for Estonia after that 😊 Not anymore though, of course, make love, not war, friends.
  • 1944 (2015) – a massively popular film which at the time broke multiple box office records.

Drama, drama, drama

  • Sügisball (Autumn Ball, 2007) – if you want to really understand Estonians, it is a film for you (at least, according to my friends – to be honest, I have not seen it). Be prepared to be depressed though.
  • Vehkleja (Fencer, 2015) – a joint production with Finland, it was actually selected as the Finnish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 88th Academy Awards, but unfortunately was not nominated.
  • Klass (The Class, 2007) – a film about a fictional school shooting. When it was released, I heard stories how people (probably foreigners) thought that it was based on real life. It is not; there has been one school shooting in Estonia, in 2014, when a student killed his teacher in a classroom.
  • Päevad, mis ajasid segadusse (The Days that Confused, 2016) – it is a comedy drama about the late 90s in Estonia. It is not the highest-rated film, but I liked it, because it offers an interesting glimpse into the (most probably) confusing life back then. Also, for me such films always show how much Estonia has really developed since it became independent.
  • Võta või jäta (Take It or Leave It, 2018) – if you are a parent (or aim to be one), this is probably interesting for you.

If you want to have a laugh

  • Malev (Men at Arms, 2005) – a fake historic epic which pokes fun at Estonians, an absurd comedy that takes place during the 13th century when Estonians were going to be Christianised. This is not a history lesson to be taken seriously.
  • Vanamehe film (The Old Man: The Movie, 2019) – it is actually an animation. For years, it was a character on a YouTube channel, but it gained wider recognition in 2014 when the character was used in clips during Eesti Laul, a competition to determine Estonia’s representative for the Eurovision Song Contest. A sequel is in development.
  • Hüvasti, NSVL (Goodbye Soviet Union, 2020) – a coming-of-age story which takes place at the same time as the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • Seenelkäik (Mushrooming, 2012) – a political satire of a politician who decides to escape a scandal by going mushrooming but gets lost in the woods.
  • Klassikokkutulek (Class Reunion, 2016) – if you have watched all of our other comedies and wonder what is wrong with Estonians and our sense of humour, then this is a film we might find a common ground on. A copy of a typical American comedy, it might appeal to wider audiences.

Family fun

Ready, lights, action!

  • O2 (2020) – a spy thriller, something really unique in the Estonian film industry. Since it is a new film, I could not find a place to stream it, except for buying a DVD.
  • Vasaku jala reede (Bad Hair Friday, 2012) – made by two really young guys (22 and 23 at the time of the release, one later became the famous Estonian musician NOËP) featuring a cast of famous actors (no idea how they got them to star in it, considering the age of the directors), it is a thriller/dark comedy. It is an over-the-top non-typical Estonian film. Unfortunately, I did not find any legal ways to watch the film right now, but TV3 has shown it in the past.

Whaaaaaat is going on? A special category of Estonian films which make you ask yourself what on Earth are you watching

Our own superheroes

  • Ott Tänak: The Movie (2019) – Ott Tänak is a national sports hero, a rally driver in the World Rally Championship. When a rally takes place, Ott takes over the news in Estonia, every single time. I always wish that there were an opportunity to block these news from appearing or showing me kittens instead, because while I have absolutely nothing against him or the WRC, I am just not a fan of motorsports.

Caution – watch at your own risk

  • Somnabuul (Somnambulance, 2003) – this is the only Estonian film that I wholeheartedly recommend you to stay as far away from as possible. A traumatic experience for life. Please don’t do this to yourself.

Happy watching!*

*Unless you are watching Somnambulance.

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