Photo journey: Jaan Tootsen “How to make a film with a goat?”

6. Oct 2023 | Jaan Tootsen | Photo journey

There are some thoughts that I have been carrying with me for a long time. Then a ray of light and a refreshing rain comes on these thoughts; a moment and a window of opportunity. Tartu 2024 Arts of Survival woke my thoughts and sprouted an acorn hidden in my grandmother’s medicine cabinet.

I’ve been an observer and a documentarian who has been given time and filming opportunities. Kilometers and light years. However, this time, it’s a different attempt – how to find a fictional solution to a biographical event – flashbacks of my childhood in Southern Estonia, my life, and my family heritage. How do you fuse it into a short film? It is like a haiku, not a novel. But a haiku, too, can have the power to shake our souls to nirvana and provide us with a profound revelation of life.

The film is like a symphony – different instruments, lights and colours. But how do you put it all together to create a miracle? It all starts with tiny and seemingly random things. Hanging out in the meadow on a summer’s day and gazing at the clouds; watching the beauty of disappearance in the autumn sunset on the Toomemäe hill in Tartu; pressing a cool, damp chestnut against a warm cheek.

Artists of survival. This is my first experience trying to use drama film nuances in my short film, with experienced team members – cinematographer Mait Mäekivi and artist Katrin Sipelgas – and we began creating a world. We can’t and mustn’t retell the story, but give a hint. It was an autumn day with the heat of a summer’s day, and we had to herd a Setumaa goat into the car. Mission impossible! It would not have been possible if Imre had not come to the rescue to tame the goat. The saying goes, the wolf doesn’t hunt around home, so for the childhood scene where a party table was turned over during a family quarrel, we went to film far away from our Võrumaa home – Setumaa. The wonderful women and men of Obinitsa helped us to recreate the memory. A decent party among a colourful company. We tried to walk the line between drama and documentary. Everything is unexpected and exciting. In Võru, I remembered that a decent party table has to have a tins of eels. And then, we had a tin of eels and a grocery check on the table – all for the sake of art. You never know what might be needed in a film – it is that very can of eels that can start a dialogue, become an event…

It’s a pity we didn’t make a film about how we made a film. Because something was happening all the time, life’s adventures with manure and vitamins. Of course, the goat took its revenge – it pulled down Mait’s camera on the set. Suddenly, the summer farmyard was filled with deafening silence. It’s a harsh comparison, but how do you describe the moment when silence suddenly chokes and your stomach starts to turn? It’s like in slow motion: the moment stops, everything is still. Even the biggest blabbermouth keeps his mouth shut at that moment. What happens next, is the filming over? Thousands of thoughts raced through Mait’s head as he flatly wiped the lens with a handkerchief. The camera survived. And the goat, too. My apologies to Mait and the goat, for the sake of art. I hope it’s worth it. Ars longa!

Jaan Tootsen is a film director, producer and journalist, born on October 14, 1975. From 1994-1995, he studied at The Estonian Institute of Humanities, and from 1995-2000, at Tallinn University, which he graduated in radio production. From 2000-2022 he worked at the Estonian Public Broadcasting. In 2012-2016, he worked as Cultural Advisor to the President of Estonia. At the moment Jaan is working in a production company Aadam ja pojad.