18 years ago a humble and tentative endeavour, Matsalu Nature Film Festival has now become one of the renowned and respected festivals in the film world, winning more and more attention with every subsequent year. Once started under the parallel name „Green Gate“ with this identifiable and obvious flavour of local event, it has now absolutely different dimensionality, covering the whole world. While in the very first year only 23 competing films from 7 different countries were shown to the audience during three days, in 2019 filmmakers from over 80 countries submitted over 1000 wonderful nature films from all over the world. While in 2003 there were participants from only Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Poland and New Zealand the present pattern is too complicated to sketch it onto an imaginable map.
Matsalu Festival’s direct predecessors were Nature Film Days from 1983 till 1989 at the Cinema House of Tallinn where the best filmmakers from all over the Soviet Union had a chance to screen their films. The main organizer of these events was our Grand Old Man of nature film Rein Maran. His wisdom and silent presence was perceptible in Lihula as well, although the actual lead was taken by a really large group of kindred spirits, all more or less connected with Lihula parish. The Rural Municipality Mayor of these years Tiit Madisson was the first one to formulate the idea which soon drew people from Lihula Municipality Office and Cultural Centre, from Matsalu Nature Reserve and Estonian Fund for Nature, not to mention various photographers and filmmakers. Ago Ruus, readily available in the region, grabbed the steering wheel, engaging in the process highly qualified film industry administrators Vaike and Tiit Mesila. The rest has already become history.
From the very beginning it was decided to hold the festival as an annual event to distribute the organizational work throughout the year. Thanks to the joint efforts of the team and assisting volunteers who facilitated the activities in every possible way the festival has always earned respect and praise for both the content and organizational work. Lihula Culture Centre - a huge and multifarious building – has played an important role in this success. It was the new breathing of this somewhat monstrous house, while now it seems to be the only possible alternative for holding the film party. By now also the scope of events has grown remarkably and a selection of films are shown all over Estonia - in Pärnu, Haapsalu, Tallinn, Tartu etc.
From the first year one important component of the festival has been nature photography. There have always been stunning exhibitions and audience-grabbing workshops going on, while one of the festival days has usually been fully devoted to photography. In addition to renowned masters from Estonia and Finland there have been exhibitions by esteemed photographers from other countries as well. On top of that there has always been an exhibition by the winners of Estonia’s biggest nature photo competition - Nature Year Photo.
One remarkable asset of the festival is undoubtedly Matsalu National Park. Situated barely ten minutes to drive from the festival venue, it is accessible to each and every visitor who could either take a special tour or simply drop by during the lunch break. With the area of almost 500 square kilometres it is not easy exposed in real depth but its ambassadors are evident everywhere in the park – just imagine huge flocks of feeding cranes or geese on the surrounding fields, their mysterious flight to the resting areas right before the sunset, diversity of lesser winged creatures on the Matsalu Bay and vast open meadows or reed bed landscapes. Here the nature is so obvious that everyone perceives it.
In fact many Estonian nature films have been captured in Matsalu, for instance dozens and dozens of different local creatures portrayed by Rein Maran or our own Grand Prix winner Joosep Matjus.
Coming back to the very philosophical core of nature films we may declare that such a genre could have become the only possibility to interact with wild nature for ever-growing number of urbanized people. It reminds us that despite our beliefs or thoughts we are an equally important part of nature. And if the Chance blesses filmmaker’s hard work with its rare presence then the result may well be just breath-taking. This is a sufficient and good reason to come together and celebrate the masterpieces over and over again.