Interview with Artur Talvik

I did an email interview with “Detsembrikuumus” producer Artur Talvik. (I’ve slightly edited his answers for clarity.)

What’s the source for the plot?

Different history books are the source of our plot. The problem for the Reds was that all their brains had recently stopped. In the beginning of the film, the newspaper boy shouts the headlines of the so called Trial of 149. Soviet Russia published a handbook some years later (maybe 1934) called “How To Make Armed Coup” or something like that. There must be basic analysis about what went wrong in Tallinn 1924. I haven’t read this book personally but it must exist also in english. Estonian historian Hain Rebas told me about that book.

What about the narrative for the characters? Are they real?

Tanel and Anna are fictional. Lawyer’s prototype is Jaan Anvelt. General Põdder was real hero of this night and something very similar happened to him. Anyway he finished drinking 4.45 and on his way to home he recognised that the coup started. general Unt is real and he controversial death in 1932 and also controversial behaving this night gave us opinion that he played strange play (maybe traitor, historians are arguing). Zinovjev is real and was the main organizer in Soviet Russia.

Did the battles in the streets of Tallinn really happen in that way? Did Põdder lead a group against the rebels? Was there really this showdown at Balti Jaam (Baltic Train Station)?

The battles are pretty similar. Althought the battle at the 5th police station wasn’t so big. The battle at the Ministry of Defense was probably similar, but the ministry wasn’t the Red headquarters and the counterattack by the guards started earlier. Something similar happened at Balti Jaam. The battle there was actually one of the biggest but we decided do not go back there because we tried to fallow Tanel’s moves. The battle at the military school barracks was probably historically the biggest. So this is very similar.

Põdder was drinking with his friends officers. Põdder knew that something will happen. So he and some of his friends stayed out drinking and they were also kind of patrolling. But they started to go home before coup started. Põdder bunched up improvised group of officers and started counterattack. This drunk independence war hero on the streets of early morning Tallinn wasn’t certainly in the plans of the Reds.

When did you first hear about this episode in Estonian history? Did you know about it before? Is it well-known amongst school children, etc?

I went to secondary school during the soviet time. The Soviets had their point of view about this coup and it was tought in school from reds point of view. So I actually knew. We were very critical in school against almost everything what was thought in history lessons. So I knew about it pretty well. I was very surprised when I started to promote the project that so few people knew about this night. Even if some knew that something happened, but they didn’t know what exactly. So i understood that our first step was to speak about this night as much as possible.

What was the most difficult thing about making this film? What was the most surprising?

December heat was extremely hard production. Permanent lack of money, extreme conditions, winter, filming in the middle of Tallinn, some days almost half of the old town was closed for traffic by us. Most of the filming was during the nights and exteriors. The worst weather conditions were during the shooting of Balti Jaam (it was shot in Tapa). There we had -15 degrees and strong wind. So this night most of the actors and extras got ill. But nobody from the basic crew. Suprised that I didn’t get a heart attack, and stayed cool.

How much of it was actually shot on the streets of Tallinn? Was it difficult to shoot there?

Tallinn old town is perfect location, but it is extremely hard to film there. You are not allowed to put even a nail into the walls without special permission. But we had explosions and shooting and also wide street shot. It means that we were suppose to clean all the streets from modern signs and other stuff. People who live close to our locations were not happy because we had noisy battle scenes during the nights. Poor them.

What is known about the actual Gen. Põdder?

Gen. Põdder is our hero. he was really beloved by the fighter of independence war. Very colorful person.

Why add the fictional characters of Anna and Tanel? Do you think the audience should know how much of the story is fictional and how much is real?

Anna and Tanel were important to show the everyday life. And some kind of love story also. It is very hard to say in some points what is real. Historians have different positions, People wo wrote about it have also different stories about the same event. So it is hard to say where is the reality until it’s not documentary. It’s a philosophical question.

What’s next for you?

Money First. A con comedy from early nineties. Jaak Kilmi will direct. Funny film.

Estonian News Roundup

1) Associated Press: Arnold Meri, a decorated Red Army veteran charged with genocide for deporting hundreds of his Estonian countrymen to Siberia in 1949, has died. He was 89.

Note: Justin’s got some more commentary on this.

2) Tallinn’s Airport has now been renamed for the late President Lennart Meri (cousin of the aforementioned Arnold Meri).

3) Estonian Air will begin flights from Amsterdam and Berlin’s Tegel (TXL) airport to Tallinn starting in June 2009.

4) I finally watched “Detsembrikuumus” (December Heat), the docu-drama about the failed December 1924 coup by Soviet agents against the nascent Estonian Republic. Former Prime Minister Mart Laar told me about this historical episode back in 2007 and how he was trying to get it made into a film. Big ups to the film’s producer, Artur Talvik, for sending me a screener, and to Kris Haamer for helping me get in touch with him.

I loved the film — I thought the shots of old Tallinn were great. The Estonian traitors though were portrayed as a bit one-dimensional — why did they turn their back on their new country? I did wonder though, how true to the actual history the story was. How much of it can be attributed to actual history and how much of it is inference? All in all, I truly enjoyed it.

September 8: Cyrus on All Things Considered (NPR)

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my radio piece on movie theaters showing non-movies will be on All Things Considered today (September 8)!

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams).

New York – 4 pm to 6:30 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 4 pm to 6 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 5 pm to 7 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

It will also be archived at and here if you miss it.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Update: Audio is here!

Rïgas sargi (Defenders of Riga)

While I’m still waiting to see “The Singing Revolution,” it appears that there’s also a new great movie coming out from Latvia as well, “Defenders of Riga.” It tells the Latvian equivalent of the Revolutionary War. While it only came out several weeks ago, it’s the highest budget Latvian movie ever, at $4 mil USD, and has broken all Latvian box office records.

As the YouTube entry describes:

Story is about 11 november 1919. WWI was over but renegade german general with russian aristocrate Bermont- Avalov decided to take control of newly formed Latvia and attacked the capital city Riga. Their army that was formed from mercenaries and german elite divisions was surprisingly defeated by latvian army that had poor equipment and consisted of volunteers. From that day november 11 is a day when we, latvians, remember our patriots that could make a miracle and show the world that we deserved our country

MobMov hits the Chronicle

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I did a piece on MobMov, a “guerilla drive-in” last summer for The World.

Today, the Chronicle decided to do a piece on it as well. I suppose I should have pitched it to the Chronicle myself. A year ago.

Ousmane Sembène, 1923-2007

Wow, the world has just lost one of its premiere filmmakers, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembène. (Previously: here, and here)

I had the pleasure of meeting him once in New York a couple of years ago, and am proud to say that I shook his hand, but the world has been diminished by the loss of this great man.

Various obits: BBC, AP, Walf Fadjri (French), Le Soleil (French)

I’m going to see Borat tonight!

I love how Slate has not one, but FOUR articles about Borat up right now.

“Borat Owes Me 97 Dollars: How Sacha Baron Cohen is Jewish vaudeville.”
“Not Very Nice: The Borat movie: They botched the joke.”
“America Undercover: Sacha Baron Cohen’s disturbing, ingenious Borat.”
“Searching for Borat: Journalists descend upon Kazakhstan; hunt for mustaches, sexism.”

Also, from the archives:

“Borat Tricked Me! Can’t I sue him or something?”
“Respek! How does Ali G keep conning famous guests?”
“Cohen Brother: The U.K.’s white rapper brings his head games to HBO.”

Also, from Wired:

“Mahir to Borat: I Sue You!”

I’ll be with my Borat fan posse tonight at the UA Emerybay 10 in Emeryville at the 9:30 pm show. High five!