On Regilaul... my initial thoughts March 21, 2012

First impressions by Kadi Pilt

Last night while watching Regilaul, songs from the ancient sea, I had somewhat mixed thoughts and feelings.

As it happens, I have recently been concerned with narratives and storytelling and have become interested in how stories are constructing our reality, altering our perception and attitudes, and investing new meanings into the phenomena we encounter. Therefore, I was unable to watch the documentary as a sui generis film. For me it was partly recognition driven emotional experience that produced the controversial feelings. I did not get the urge to analyse the camera work or sound. As for editing, there definitely were moments I was wondering about the choices made, why the sequence or structure was like it was, however, being made aware of the background story and having the knowledge that the overall original footage exceeded some 120 hours and was cut down to mere 104 minutes, I did not let these reservations bother me.

For me, when it comes to Regilaul, its creation story is so deeply embedded in the film that it ends up mattering more than the film itself. The creation myth of Regilaul can be considered epic by some standards; a tale that should strongly appeal to all people suffering from the Worldfilm infection. According to the legend, Ulrike Koch got the inspiration and desire to make the documentary while at the Worldfilm festival a few years ago: the participants had gathered at Lodi Boatyard for a party and at one point during the night people started to chant the ancient songs. I do believe that many Estonians besides me have experienced events like this – people at social gathering are having a good time, and at a certain point someone initiates the singing and everyone joins in; it is quite ordinary. I have experienced it numerous times and I have taken it for granted. It has been something self-explanatory for me, the extraordinariness of which I started to fathom when the phenomena of our traditional songs was shown to me by someone coming from elsewhere, an outsider, a foreigner.

Over time, I have been subjected to many definitions of what anthropology is about. Not remembering the exact quote or wording, I recall that one of the characterisations established that the self-explanatory content and practises of any human existence are observed and explained, interpreted for the people themselves as well as for other cultures. If my memory serves me correctly, then according to this approach I would consider Regilaul an anthropological film.

I am not going to write about the film itself. I’d rather someone else would contribute to our blog. Until then, anyone understanding Estonian can read the review by Immo Mihkelson published in today’s Postimees and, given a chance, watch the film themselves.