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Estonian animation tour to help Estonian-American children showcase their roots

A scene from a stop-motion clip called
A scene from a stop-motion clip called "Song festival," produced in an Animation Generation workshop at a grade school in Estonia in spring 2016. Source: (Animation Generation)

Funded by a grant from the Estonian Ministry of Culture and the Estonian American National Council, Animation Generation, a three-person animation team from Estonia, will be traveling across the United States to visit local Estonian Schools and communities and help bring Estonian-American children’s visions of their families’ homeland to life.

“This was the best class night ever!” declared Merje Kuusk, a teacher at Harmi Primary School. Kuusk was referring to the Animation Generation workshop held at her school, located about a 40-minute drive southeast of the Estonian capital of Tallinn, on April 22, as the workshop team prepared to leave Estonia to travel to the US on a special month-long animation tour.

The tour, officially dubbed “Animation Generation: the Estonian American Experience,” will provide animation workshops to children of the Estonian diaspora located in New York City, Lakewood, N.J., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle between May 2 and June 4. The April workshop, held with the eight children making up Ms. Kuusk’s class at the Harmi school, was a test run of the portable equipment the team will be using on their trip.

“Animation Generation: the Estonian American Experience” was the brainchild of Kreeta Käeri, who works as an animator and teacher for Nukufilm Children’s Studio. Estonia’s Nukufilm Studios dates back to 1957, and over nearly 60 years has grown to become the biggest puppet animation studio in Northern Europe in terms of studio size, technical supplies as well as number of employees. Käeri has been building puppets and doing stop-motion animation since 2006, and her experiences with children at the Children’s Studio provided the inspiration for her idea to use animation as a way to connect Estonian-American children with their Estonian heritage.

“Animation speaks to everyone in a way that is very accessible,” explained Käeri. “Even the smallest child, who might not yet appreciate Estonian poetry or more traditional art, gets a special feeling watching animation.”

Using this approachability as a basis for their work, the team conducted a number of workshops in the Tallinn children’s studio between February and early April of this year, exploring local children’s ideas about what makes Estonia special. The animations created by the local children will be shared with Estonian-American children on the tour, who will in turn create their own animations as a part of each two and a half-hour workshop.

In addition to Käeri, the team also includes her husband Martin Kanger Käeri, a cameraman and technical specialist, and Erin Crouch, an American who has been living in Estonia for the past two years. Crouch holds a master’s degree in International Relations, and has worked with cultural and educational exchanges as well as grants and project administration for more than a decade. The three of them worked together to plan the project, including contacting all of the Estonian Houses to be visited in advance and planning their travel itinerary.

Nukufilm Children’s Studio teaches stop-motion animation, the style of animation to be introduced and taught in the upcoming workshops, to both children and adults. This style of animation involves moving an object a little bit at a time and photographing it repeatedly. When the images are merged thereafter, the objects appear to “come to life” and move of their own accord. Children are delighted to see their drawings move across paper and their puppets get up and dance, and, in addition, an activity called a “pixilation” even lets the children themselves freeze and move, allowing them to do even seemingly impossible tricks such as fly on a broom. The creativity unleashed by the workshops will be channeled to help Estonian-American children think about how they themselves see and understand Estonia, and allow them to see what their peers across the ocean think as well.

ERR News will be following the team as they travel across the US and check in as they visit various Estonian Houses and communities, eventually reaching more than 100 children with Estonian heritage growing up on the other side of the ocean.

The project can also be followed on social media via Animation Generation’s Facebook page.

For more information on Nukufilm Children’s Studio, visit their website (link in Estonian).

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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