- Estonian Film Archive
In 1936, Estonia enacted the “Bylaws of Estonian Chronology of the National Archives and Build-up of Film and Photo Archive” to regulate the public maintenance of film and photo documents. The Second World War caused irreversible damage to the Estonian film collection. A large number of negatives from the Eesti Kultuurfilm (the Estonian Culture Film) that had been prepared for delivery to the archive were destroyed.
After the war the fonds of the Department of Cinema, Photo and Phonographic documents of the State Central Archive of the October Revolution and Socialist Construction of Soviet Estonia were mostly closed to the public, in line with the ideological framework of the Soviet period. In 1971, the National Central Archive of Film, Photo and Phonographic Documents of Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (FFFRKA) began operating work.
In connection with re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991, the basics of the archive’s work changed considerably. The opening of formerly classified fonds had begun already in 1987.
Since 1999 the Estonian Film Archive has been a structural unit of the National Archives of Estonia.
Since 1999 the Estonian Film Archive has been a structural unit of the National Archive of Estonia. For information about the administrative structure of the Film Archive, see here.
Records Management and Collecting Policies
For an overview of the Film Archive's collection policies, see:
Archival and Other Holdings
The archival holdings are divided into 3 groups: film, photo and audio
The collections of the Film Archives include film and video material on Estonia from the early 20th century to the present. Organised acquisition of films started in 1935 on the basis of the Archives Act, and focused on newsreels. The earliest film footage dates back to 1908. The oldest domestic films were produced by Johannes Pääsuke between 1912 and 1914.
The Film Archives hold newsreels, newsreel segments, documentaries, music films, feature films, animated films, advertisements and amateur films. The archives are the repository for more than 8,000 titles of film and close to 7,000 original video titles. The collections also include outtakes from television programmes and films, fragments of films that have not survived in their entirety, and other additional materials such as film postproduction transcripts, screenplays and posters.
The archives have abundant audiovisual material related to cultural and sports events. The largest part of the film collection consists of newsreels, which offer a rich trove of material in the fields of genealogy, institutions, industry and agriculture. On military themes, there is unique footage from the Estonian War of Independence, the Defence League (Kaitseliit), the Defence Forces, and the Women’s Voluntary Defence Organisation (Naiskodukaitse).
The amateur films in the archives were shot by both cinematographers for whom it was a hobby and associations of amateur filmmakers connected to various institutions. The film archives have also acquired amateur films and video recordings documenting émigré Estonian activities abroad – for example, the Estonian Archives in Australia, the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City, the Swedish Estonian Society in Stockholm and the Boston Estonian Society collections.
From the pre-World War II period, only a few titles of feature films survive: ”Karujaht Pärnumaal” (Bear Hunt in Pärnu County, 1914), “Tšekaa komissar Miroštšenko” (Cheka Commissar Miroshchenko, 1925), “Noored kotkad” (Young Eagles, 1927), “Jüri Rumm” (1929), “Kire lained” (Waves of Passion, 1930), “Päikese lapsed” (Children of the Sun, 1932) and fragments of the films “Kevade unelm” (A Spring Dream, 1927) and “Vigased pruudid” (Defective Brides, 1929). The archives also are the depository for feature films produced by Tallinnfilm. After the Republic of Estonia regained independence, many private companies appeared on the film landscape, and up until early 2017, they had no obligation to hand their films over to the archives. As a result, the archives do not comprehensively represent the films produced in Estonia.
The photo collection of the National Archives is Estonia’s largest collection of historical photographs. In January 2001, it was made up of almost 500,000 photo documents; 265 035 of which had been described and belong to 522 different fonds. The collection took shape as a result of the 1935 Archives Act and the Soviet-era archival system. The oldest photographs date from the late 19th century archives of persons and societies, including the portraits and albums of Baltic German families (zur Mühlen, Krusenstern, Ungern-Sternberg), student fraternities (Estonia, Livonia, Estonian Students’ Society) and the agriculture and genealogy societies (Estonian Agricultural Society of Tartu, Matriculation Commission of the Estonian Welfare Association, German Genealogical Society of Tartu). The National Archives’ oldest photograph – a daguerreotype from the late 1840s – and 12 ferrotypes are noteworthy rarities.
The archives contain collections based on photographers, collectors, individuals, companies, organisations, schools and institutions of state. The latter include police photos of criminals and fugitives, and photographs of weapons and driving licences. The largest part of the photo collections of the Film Archives consist of the collections of Estonian newspaper offices. Since the 1990s, the newspapers have preserved their collections inhouse, but in the Soviet era, the archives made periodic acquisitions from nearly all newspapers, particular collections of note were those of the ETA wire service (64,000 photographs), Rahva Hääl newspaper and Spordileht.
The archives also contain matter of interest to military buffs: personal archives of military figures, albums documenting World War I, the Defence League districts, the members of Estonian cabinets of ministers.
Photos from émigré Estonian organisations and personal archives describe how Estonians in the various countries lived: participation in the ESTO festivals, celebration of various anniversaries. The oldest photos depicting Estonians’ daily lives are from America, and the Far East and Russia.
Film-related photo collections include albums of screen tests for feature films and photos from the set for Tallinnfilm studio. Numerous photos of theatres in the Estonian SSR are also preserved here.
In January 2001, the audio collection consisted of more than 7,000 items. A prominent part of the collection of sound recordings consists of phonograph records produced since early 20th century, as well as of the radio broadcasts produced from the 1930s onwards. The first Estonian-language sound recording was produced in 1901 in St. Petersburg, but the oldest sound recordings in the Film Archives are one-sided gramophone discs released in 1904.
The earliest recordings of radio broadcasts – on now-rare acetate records – date from the second half of the 1930s. In government departments, the first phonograms were recorded in the mid-1970s and the acquisition of these in various formats continues today. In the first few years of the re-independence period, many film and record production institutions went defunct. As a result, the audio collection of the Film Archives increased with the acquisition of Tallinnfilm audio archives and master tapes for vinyl discs released by Meloodia company.
Over the last decade, the share of material from Estonian diasporic communities has increased significantly. The most important personal archives are the audio collections of recording producer Viljar Nairis and the writer Enn Nõu. The most significant radio collections consist of broadcasts by Eesti Raadio, Eesti Televisioon, Radio Free Europe, and the Stockholm Association of Estonian Music and Culture community radio. The latter collection also contains programming and recordings from other Estonian-language radio stations’ programming from Sweden and other places.
The sound recordings of performances by well-known persons constitute an invaluable part of the audio collections. These include both speeches by statesmen in the interwar era and by leaders of governments in exile. Also fascinating are speeches by significant figures in art, music, literature, science and sport. The main aim of the record collection is to preserve a maximum number of the records issued in, or related to, Estonia before World War II and later on.
Finding Aids, Guides, and Publication
You can search data from the film and audio collections in the online database Film Archive Information System (FIS). The titles and descriptions are in Estonian. You can search data from photo collections in the online database of the Estonian National Archives (FOTIS).
The reading room offers different alphabetical, chronological and other card files and finding aids.
Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Conditions of Access
Researchers have free access to the archived items, provided the technical status of the latter allows for such use and that this use is not restricted under contractual relationships concerning private property.
A consultant is available in the reading room to assist researchers. Languages spoken by staff: Estonian, Russian, and English. Visitors may use card files, finding aids, and PCs for online databases. It is possible to review films, view photos, listen to audio documents, and subscribe copies.
Temporary lending of film copies.
Reproduction of video copies (DVD, DVCAM, DV, BETACAM-SP, VHS, avi file)
Photo scanning, for prints of size 10x15 cm up to 30x40 cm.
Reproductions from audio tapes, audio cassettes and audio discs to audio cassettes and CDs.
No availability of free internet.
Entry added on October 13, 2014 by Meelis Maripuu based on public information, finding aids available at the homepage of the Estonian Film Archives, and personal experience.