Film and media blog

Filmmakers Adapting

Interview with young Estonian filmmakers Hõbe Ilus and Mihkel Oksmann currently based in New York.

Filmmakers at work

Jaanika Peerna, the Cultural Affairs Coordinator of the Estonian Consulate General in New York interviewed two young filmmakers working on their projects right now in New York for the Estonian Cultural Events newsletter in New York. The filmmakers are our Documentary Film alumni Hõbe Ilus and Mihkel Oksmann.

Jaanika Peerna: What are you up to?

Mihkel Oksman: I am in New York with the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) scholarship and doing a full-time internship at a Brooklyn-based documentary film production company Flatbush Pictures. BAFF develops ties between the Baltic states and US through programs of education and exchange.

Hõbe Ilus: I am one of the fellows of 2020 UnionDocs Collaborative Studio. CoLAB is a 10-month documentary program for a select group of media artists from the US and abroad. 

We both moved to New York in September, 2019.

Aside our programs, we are working together on a film about the NYC Wedding Officiant. We were very lucky to finish the shooting before the lockdown. Wedding Officiant is a co-production with Alamo Pictures (London, UK) and will be released this spring.

Hõbe Ilus at UnionDocs, her current residence and workplace.

JP: How has your life changed during the global crisis?

Mihkel: We have a small team of 8 people, and Zoom meetings are now an essential part of our daily communication. We have managed our workflow very well, and the production continues despite the crisis. We are working on a feature-length documentary project about guns in US.

Hõbe: CoLAB is continuing remotely, and our weekly production meetings and masterclasses with guests are held on Zoom. We were in the middle of the production process with our projects when the situation changed. Many of the initial ideas needed to be revised or postponed. In the light of these shifts, I’m currently working with my collaborators on an audio-visual piece based on phone calls – one end in New York, the other somewhere else. 

UnionDocs was very kind to let us both live at their residency. It’s an old house with character in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that runs (in normal circumstances) workshops, screenings, events on the ground floor and houses international residents on the 2nd and 3rd floors. This is the place we will remember when thinking of the lockdown. We are actually pretty lucky – there’s a lot of common space and a backyard with garden beds filled with soil. We also attempted to seed some plants, but who knows if anything will come up – squirrels are determined, there’s food where the seeds are. Our New York experience turned out very differently from what we expected. But as filmmakers, we learn to adapt with changing situations and grow to appreciate them.

JP: What will the world be like post-pandemic? 

Mihkel: The world will be a different place after the crisis and it's too early to tell what the situation will be, but what I hope is that the world's leaders learn that in order to solve global issues, we need effective global co-operation. 
Hõbe I really don’t know. But it will sure change and probably greatly. I just hope we know how to do our best to navigate within these changes. 

Mihkel Oksmann at UnionDocs.