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Oscar nominee brings awareness to Estonia



From the red carpet in Los Angeles to Bloomington, Estonians are getting attention across America this week.

Students and faculty celebrated Estonian Independence Day yesterday at the Indiana Memorial Union. Following the celebration, many people walked to IU Cinema to view a 2015 Oscar nominee, “Tangerines.”

“Tangerines” is an Estonian-Georgian film about an Estonian during the 1990 war in Georgia who stays behind to harvest tangerines. The story unfolds as he takes care of a wounded man who was left behind.

Estonian film recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, recognizing about 250 feature films produced over the century.

“Tangerines” brought attention to Estonia this year at the Oscars, breaking away from the typical documentaries and slow-moving films the country has produced in the past.

“Estonian filmmakers are more poets than epic storytellers,” said Department of Central Eurasian Studies Languages Coordinator Piibi-Kai Kivik.

The budget for “Tangerines” was 600,000 euros, or about $680,000. Kivik said many gossipers in LA were surprised to see “such a low-budget film” at the Oscars.

Although the film did not win Best Foreign ?Language Film, she said she is happy the film was nominated and that Estonia was represented Sunday night.

Estonia is a small country in the northeastern borders of Europe, just south of the Gulf of Finland.

Its independence was originally established Feb. 24, 1918, then reestablished in 1991 after breaking away from Soviet control.

“We are celebrating a tradition that many natives dreamed about, shed tears about, but could not celebrate for so long,” Kivik said.

She said the celebration of their independence would result in serious consequences, likely death, under the control of the Soviet Union in the mid-20th ?century.

Only two American universities have a curriculum solely dedicated to Estonian studies: IU and the University of Washington. Kivik said she takes pride in the curriculum at IU because students can receive a complete education of the ?language.

The only two undergraduate students of the language program, sophomores Ty Debes and Chelsea Bonhotal, recited traditionally-known poems of Estonia.

“If there were more students in the program, you would have heard a lot more poems tonight,” Debes said, laughing.

These poems were not translated into English because there are no English versions available.

Kivik said poems and literature from Estonia are rarely translated at all, which is “more incentive for people to learn Estonian.”

There are close to 1 million speakers of Estonian and only about 35 universities across the globe that teach the language, which is why Kivik said she wants to bring more attention to the program on campus.

Ain Haas, previous president and current treasurer of the Estonian Society of Indianapolis, played a kannel for the audience. A kannel is a string folk instrument, native to Estonia and surrounding countries, played in traditional ?settings.

After closing the ceremony with the Estonian national anthem, traditional food dishes like kringel, pirukas, potato salad and rosolje sat on the table for attendees after the short program.

Kringel is a sweet bread and “an absolute must for holidays and celebration,” as deemed by Kivik.

Pirukas are a meat-filled pastry, commonly seen on coffee tables and at traditional gatherings in Estonia. Rosolje is a beetroot herring, which Kivik said requires a desire for a “very specific taste.”

Kivik decided to commemorate the holiday a day early this year so the celebration would coincide with the film showing. She said Estonia has had a very good year.

Jamsheed Choksy, Department of Central Eurasian Studies chair, said he was happy to see students involved in the celebration of Estonian independence once again this year — pirukas and potato salad in hand.

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