For nearly half a century, New York City has played host to an annual festival of Estonian culture in the heart of Manhattan. The 49th edition of the Estonian Cultural Days in New York will take place from 3-7 April and feature a range of events, from film screenings and theatre performances to lectures, a startup showcase and even a performance by popular artist Nublu.
The Estonian Cultural Days in New York (ECD) was first held in 1970 as an event to showcase Estonian culture to the émigré community during a time when Estonia was still occupied by the Soviet Union, organisers said in a press release.
"During 50 years of occupation, Estonian culture in the Western world was kept alive through events such as the ECD. With [re]independence in 1991 came the opportunity for Estonians everywhere to interact more closely, and the ECD has transitioned with the times into an event attended by Estonians of all ages and backgrounds, including older [immigrants] and their descendants as well as recent transplants."
The Estonian Foundation for Arts and Letters, the main organiser of the annual event, stressed the importance of offering some events that can be enjoyed by non-Estonian speaking members or friends of the community, and, as such, made a point to include several such events in the schedule this year.
Interwoven into this year's five-day programme, which features acclaimed films, theatre, musicians and lecturers, are nods to the 150th anniversary of the Estonian Song Festival, and the UN's International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The kickoff event on Wednesday, 3 April is the Estonian Startup Showcase "Innovation Disruption at the 59th Parallel," which will spotlight the ecosystem behind one of Silicon Valley's best kept secret "unicorn hatcheries." Entrepreneurs will also be available for a meet and greet on Friday following the festival's official opening ceremony.
Thursday's film night at the Scandinavian House will feature a documentary and feature film. "The Wind Sculpted Land" (2018) is an epic documentary about Estonian nature — wild animals, migrating birds and the spectacular landscape — and has become a blockbuster hit in Estonia. "The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow" is a three-part film by art house director Sulev Keedus featuring woman character studies from different eras.
Friday's opening ceremony will give guests a brief taste of Uku Suviste and Grete Paia's Saturday night concert, and will feature New York's own Saare Vikat, the revived local folk dance troupe vying for a spot in this summer's Estonian Dance Festival in Tallinn. The evening will be hosted by the Estonian Consulate General in New York and provide an opportunity to give thanks to the consulate and other event sponsors, which include the Free Estonian Word (VES), the Estonian Students Fund in US (ESF USA), the Estonian Relief Committee, the Estonian American National Council, the Estonian Education Society, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK), the Estonian sorority korp! Filiae Patriae, the fraternity Estonian Students' Society (EÜS), the Washington Estonian Society, Enterprise Estonia, Startup Estonia, and Oscar Diggs Digital.
Friday night will also see the opening of the Maria Spann photo exhibit "Children of the 1944 Estonian Diaspora," a theme sure to resonate with those who lived through World War II themselves as well as be of interest to those who have only heard the stories from friends and loved ones.
Friday evening will culminate with a performance of the acclaimed Estonia Drama Theatre's production of Andrus Kivirähk's "Witching Hour on Koidula Street," in which classic Estonian authors A. H. Tammsaare and Mati Unt are joined by a schoolgirl in a room whereupon the witching hour begins.
Saturday's lectures and seminars will offer a wide array of topics including "The Estonian Free World — Past and Future" panel discussion, "Mindscapes of an Indigenous People," by linguist and anthropologist Indrek Park (University of Indiana), "Soulscapes," with renowned semiotician Valdur Mikita, and "The Sauna: Blending Ancient Traditions with Modern Culture."
The first concert of Saturday evening, "I Want to Be the Night," will feature Uku Suviste and Greta Paia presenting popular Estonian hits. This will be followed by a performance by Nublu, crowned Best Male Artist of 2019 in Estonia, along with DJ QRX.
On Sunday, "An Ode to the Song Festival," a church concert conducted by Maaja Roos, will feature the New York Estonian Mixed Choir with soloists Uku Suviste, Grete Paia and Raahel Pilpak and a programme of both old and new Song Festival songs. Children are encouraged to attend the concert before a showing of the recently released "Lotte and the Lost Dragons," a popular feature-length animated Estonian children's film.
The ECD will conclude with a reception at the church for participants, performers and sponsors.
For a full schedule, more info and tickets, please visit the homepage of the Foundation for Estonian Arts and Letters here.
For more information regarding the Estonian Startup Showcase, click here.
Editor: Aili Vahtla