Estonia's Box Office Gets a Boost From an Animated Puppy With 'Lotte'

Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival
'Lotte and the Lost Dragons' has sold to more than 55 global territories.

The success of the franchise — the latest installment screens in Berlin's Generations sidebar — is a testament to an incentive scheme that has helped drive the country's domestic box office to an all-time high.

Estonia’s answer to Disneyland is focused not around a mouse with big ears, but a little puppy girl called Lotte, her younger sister Roosi, and a cast of delightful animal characters that include friendly and optimistic raccoon Karl, an erudite scientist who keeps his equally learned colleague, a grumpy and cynical fish named Victor, in a pond in his breast pocket.

The Lotte Village theme park, located near Estonia’s border with Latvia, is testament to the phenomenal success of the country’s animated film franchise Lotte From Gadgetville and, by extension, the nation’s efforts to build a homegrown movie industry.

The Lotte franchise has produced a TV series and three feature films to date —the latest, Lotte and the Lost Dragons, will have its international premiere in Berlin’s Generation sidebar — and sold worldwide to more than 55 territories.

Kalev Tamm of Tallinn’s Eesti Joonisfilm, which produces the Lotte films, attributes the franchise’s success to its message of nonviolence and strain of humanistic humor.

“There is need for nonviolent children’s movies on the market with the friendly characters children can identify with and, of course, an interesting, adventurous storyline,” Tamm says.

But Lotte’s success story would not have been possible without the efforts of the state government in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, which has systematically built up a local film and TV business with a combination of top-down investment and internationally focused tax incentives.

Estonia’s unique cash rebate system for international productions — which provides a rebate of up to 30 percent on local spend — has been successful by focusing on a small number of productions which can reap the bulk of the benefits from the small territory (population 1.2 million).

A proposed plan, which would link up tax incentives between Estonia and neighbors Finland and Latvia, could further boost inward investment in the region by giving international producers a single point of entry.

The investment in local production has paid off. Estonian films had a breakthrough year in 2018, with admissions for domestic films more than doubling to just under 650,000, an all-time record.

“We have an Estonian catchphrase: small but effective,” says Edith Sepp, director of the Estonian Film Institute. “Procedures for funding are fast and the Estonian Film Institute deals with all projects personally.”

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 10 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.