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Wildscreen Festival 2022

Official Awards of the 20th Matsalu Nature Film Festival
By Jason Peters
24th September 2022

The 20th Matsalu Nature Film Festival AKA Matsalu Loodusfilmide Festival was held in beautiful Lihula, Estonia from the 21st until the 25th of September, the Award Winners being announced on the evening of the 24th.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022

The Matsalu Nature Film Festival (MAFF) is an annual nature film event held in Estonia. It is named after the nearby Matsalu National Park, which is one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Europe.

MAFF is organized by the Matsalu Nature Film Festival non-profit organization in cooperation with the Lääneranna municipal government. The festival promotes nature-oriented and sustainable ways of life and respect for the nature-connected traditions of indigenous people. It showcases a variety of new international documentaries about wildlife, conservation and the environment that inspire, inform and ignite change.

Traditionally, the festival features various art and nature photography exhibitions, photo presentations and meetings of both professional and amateur photographers. The program also includes screenings, activities and workshops for schoolchildren, roundtable discussions on different nature-related topics and other cultural events.

MAFF takes place in the tiny town of Lihula in Western Estonia. A selection of films are then shown all over Estonia.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Finalists
Finalists in attendance getting certificates from festival director Silvia Lotman

There are two film categories at MAFF:

NATURE - documentaries that depict the natural world in its diversity.

MAN AND NATURE - documentaries that depict the relationship and balance between nature and humanity.

This year I was invited to be on the final jury for the festival (specifically the "nature" category) and I was happy to accept, and attend. It was a fantastic experience and my fellow jury members were a great bunch: maff.ee/en/film-program/jury

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Red carpet and a horn
A traditional Estonian horn gets the red carpet started!

Houbara, an Iranian film about the poaching and trafficking of bustards came out top with two awards, including the Grand Prix, with Estonian film The Great Swamp coming in second with two awards.

The winners of the fesitval are:

Grand Prix

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Houbara


Directors: Fathollah Amiri, Nima Asgari
Production Company: Wildlife Pictures Institute
Country: Iran

Houbara or Bustard (Chlamydotis macqueni) is one of the favorite birds among hunters and falconers in the Persian Gulf countries. Unfortunately in the last decades, bustard’s hunting and catching alive have caused a drastic reduction in its population and as a result, it is now considered one of the most vulnerable and endangered species in Iran and all over the world.

20. MAFF | Houbara - trailer

Jury comment: Iranian men in uniforms, chasing poor bedouin poachers with guns. Trapped birds sold to rich people in neighbouring countries. Women being kept out of sight and mentioned only once - as the presumed head of the criminal network. Houbara is an incredibly thought-provoking film. We were on the edge of our seats rooting for environmental workers to be able to put a stop to the awful persecution of this beautiful species. Making a detective-action nature film is a difficult task. Houbara definitely achieved it. The film is quite a journey, exciting and full of jeopardy, and involves passionate people. There’s human suffering on both sides, as the poachers feel the need to trap the birds due to poverty, and the wildlife protection unit despair at the treatment of the birds, and their endangerment. Wealthier Middle-Eastern countries are taking advantage of their poorer neighbors by exploiting their natural resources pretty much like the rest of us are doing with our planet’s resources and using them to our amusement without any regard to the consequences. This is a message that needs to be amplified, and that is what we hope this award will do.

Runners up: Waves beneath the Water and The Elephant and the Termite

Best Director (Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Waves beneath the Water

Waves beneath the Water

Director: Arthur de Bruin
Production Company: Ispida Wildlife Productions

Country: Netherlands

The Netherlands and water, a country and an elemental force inextricably interwoven. The mills, pumping stations, polders and dykes are famous and magnets for tourists. The country is surrounded by water in a captivating landscape of ditches, canals, ponds, pools, lakes and rivers. As much as 16% of the country is fresh water and a third of the land lies below sea level. But... what do we actually know about the aquatic lives of the fresh water residents? In this blue chip film, we see protagonists that are hidden from us in our daily lives, because they live under water. The complexity, beauty and ingenuity of those below the water surface is fascinating. The diversity of species, sizes, behaviour, colours and shapes is enormous. This is a world that you think only exists on coral reefs, until you find a farm ditch and put your head underwater.


Jury comment: A wonderful mix of wildlife stories expertly woven into the journey of a single eel, on her age-old journey from sea to freshwater domain and back, through man-made obstacles, one after another. The director clearly had passion and vision for this film. His expert understandings in the stories told in this film are evident throughout. The cinematography would’ve been hard to capture in these underwater river habitats but the story flow is clean and told with fantastically clear underwater sequences, including a perfectly realised moment when the young eel bumps into a concrete wall. Along with the story of the struggles faced by the eel, there are strong, albeit very subtle, environmental messages expertly woven throughout the film. From people using water as a playground against a struggle for survival beneath the waves, to an image of fishing dropped in, a dog upsetting coots during playtime. Subtle but stark references. Those along with mentions of invasives. All tied together by excellent narration, which was funny in places, and a well put together soundtrack. Unobtrusive music, woven in with appropriate natural sounds, carrying the film along at the right pace. All in all a stunning film, from start to finish, born out of passion, and it showed!

Runners up: The Elephant and the Termite and Bee Wild!

Best Director (Man and Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Houbara


Directors: Fathollah Amiri, Nima Asgari
Production Company: Wildlife Pictures Institute
Country: Iran

Jury comment: It is not a beautiful film featuring charming wildlife stories - but it is one that inevitably needed to be made. It is not the easiest thing to make an investigative film in Iran anyway. The more important is the fact that such a film is made and that it has made it here to our audiences. The film does not provide us with conclusions, but leaves us with a heap of difficult, unanswered questions. What will happen to the houbaras that were confiscated from the smugglers? Will they manage to survive? What about the arrested poachers and their families? How could we possibly get the information about the range of devastation through to the rich people who buy these delicate birds in order to have them torn into pieces by (also imprisoned) falcons? When we buy petrol for our cars here, are we possibly also part of this miserable network of exploitation?

Runners up: Life of a Mutt and Pleistocene Park

Best Cinematography (Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Bee Wild!

Bee Wild!

Director: Jan Haft
Cinematography: Kay Ziesenhenne, Alexandra Sailer, Jonas Blaha, Jonathan Wirth, Steffen Sailer, Jan Haft Production Company: nautilusfilm GmbH for doclights GmbH/NDR Naturfilm
Country: Germany

They’re some of our most effective pollinators. Living in bright wooden huts, producing honey and wax. Busy, beneficial and closely tied to human needs. But how do bees live in the wild? And why did they disappear from our forests? This film portrays the wild life of the honey bee in our forests and it shows the important role of this creature in nature.

20. MAFF | BEE WILD! - trailer

Jury comment: There were many films that had great cinematography in the competition this year and so this was a difficult call. Bee Wild! pipped the others to the post however, due to its great variety of shots, including wide, expansive shots, intimate nest cameras, all the way down to perfect, immersive macro. And other techniques. ... use of tracking, slow-mo, timelapse, aerials, thermal etc all working harmoniously together. All telling the story of where wild honey bees once were, and that maybe they will come back. If their challenges can be overcome.

Runners up: Waves beneath the Water and The Elephant and the Termite

Best Cinematography (Man and Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Great Swamp

The Great Swamp
Director/Cinematographer: Remek Meel
Production Company: Vesilind
Country: Estonia

Vello moved to the farthest swamp island of Emajõe-Suursoo 30 years ago. He left his previous labor life and the city to live in harmony with the mother of nature. There is still such a nature in Emajõe-Suursoo that is vanishing from the rest of the world. The vast delta allows the species to live on its own, without much human intervention, even though man has been seeking refuge and food supplements in the swamp for thousands of years. Vello makes a living from beekeeping and hunting, his life flows in the rhythm of nature.


Jury comment: Great film that conveys the idea that we all belong to nature. The intimate and sensitive story also determined its visual style - no tricks or effects - that facilitated the core idea to shine through. Primeval nature and human nature in all their full beauty and toughness are effectively conveyed to the viewer.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Great Swamp - Remek Meel
The Great Swamp - Remek Meel

Runners up: Beyond the White and Lagunaria

Best Editing (Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Elephant and the Termite

The Elephant and the Termite

Directors: Mark Deeble, Victoria Stone
Editors: Victoria Stone and Sophia Evans
Production Company: Deeble & Stone
Country: United Kingdom

Together, elephants and termites create waterholes. This is the remarkable story of the relationship between Africa’s largest and smallest and the unique biodiversity that they support. It is the story of a seasonal African waterhole in southern Kenya - an extraordinary web of interdependency and the circle of life as never seen before. All from the perspective of a cast of animal characters that live at elephant toe-nail height. It is the intriguing story of their struggle to survive and raise families before their world turns to dust.

20. MAFF | The Elephant & the Termite - trailer

Jury comment: This film is an hugely impressive one. It is beautifully shot, of course, with so many brilliant wildlife moments, like the “pinball dung beetle” and an exquisite moment when a chameleon drinks a dew drop, all expertly captured but what we found was the most standout thing about the film was how these wonderfully diverse wildlife sequences were perfectly knitted together as the bigger story of elephant and termite unfolded. The great cinematography and myriad of stories covered here wouldn’t’ve been nearly as well realised, as emotional, or funny even had the editor not had an in-depth knowledge of all the species, their stories and how they are so intimately connected to the bigger picture/place ... Essentially, the film feels natural, well-paced, immersive, the stories expertly and wonderfully cut together, creating a web of life that seems whole. Feels right.

Runners up: Hippo King and Superbirds - The Secret Life Of Tits

Best Editing (Man and Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Life of a Mutt

Life of a Mutt
Director: Tanja Brzakovic
Editors: Jelena Bosanac, Srdjan Mitrovic, Branka Pavovic, Irena Domazetovic, Mina Nenadovic
Production Company: Talas Film
Country: Serbia

“Life of a mutt” tells true, intimate and authentic stories from the perspective of stray dogs. Combining documentary material with hand drawn animation and voice over, we are crossing between genres and forms of documentary, fiction and animation, giving our silent heroes a voice. The inspiration comes from ancient Indian, Russian, and British stories. Combining seven destinies/scenes in one life story- from birth to a birth again, we witness their dignifying fight for survival.

20. MAFF | Life of a Mutt - trailer

Jury comment: An emotional film that challenges the definition of nature and human-animal co-dependence. Combining candid documentary material with playful hand-drawn animation and voiceover, the film crosses between genres, resulting in a kaleidoscopic story that is neatly pieced together. The film gives stray dogs a voice that so closely resonates with our deepest existential questions. Lost between urban and rural abandoned spaces, where they are close to humans, but far enough not to annoy them, the dogs in this film act out a dignifying fight for survival and belonging.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Life of a Mutt – Tanja Brzakovic
Life of a Mutt – Tanja Brzakovic

Runners up: Chickens virus and us and Houbara

Special Jury Prize (Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Door was Open

The Door was Open

Director: Olivier Marin
Cinematography: Malia Chaton
Editing: Léonie Hébrard
Composer: Simon K Blonde
Producer: Léonie Hébrard
Production Company: Les Amis de l'IFFCAM
Country: France

Places evolve endlessly. They are alternatively lairs, shelters, factories or homes. In this man-made environment, abandoned and left on its own, from now on one can hear birds whistling.

La Porte Était Ouverte - Bande-annonce

Jury comment: This film was immediately recognised as a standout film. It was a very interesting look at how wildlife can embrace man-made landscapes as their home, but they are not safe even there. So it is like a double loss, first being pushed out of their natural habitat to make room for an artificial landscape, and then when humans desert it, the wildlife comes back and adjusts to the change, but then humans interfere again, tearing it all down, so the cycle has to start over. We loved the mix of animation, showing the ghostly past, mixed with minimal but powerful snippets of narration, but the story largely carried forward by the images, telling their own story, helped in no small amount by subtle, appropriate music and natural sounds. We all strongly felt that this film deserved to be recognised as a wonderful, well done and refreshingly unique film.

Special Jury Prize (Man and Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Neighborhood of Infinity

Neighborhood of Infinity

Director/Cinematography/Editing: Mark Aitken
Production Company: Tacit
Country: Spain

Birds colonise an urban neighbourhood. People rediscover vital animal instincts. Together they show how confinement might be the ultimate measure of freedom.


Jury comment: The best corona-time film. Featuring bird and human behavior. A meditative film that directs the attention of the viewer to minute details of our daily lives that can save one from isolation-induced insanity. Watching wildlife is like watching ourselves.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Neighborhood of Infinity – Mark Aitken
Neighborhood of Infinity – Mark Aitken

Special Mention (Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Raccoons, Survival Warriors

Raccoons, Survival Warriors

Writer/Director: Emma Baus
Cinematography: David Wright, Edmond Carrere
Editing: Rémi Dumas
Composer: Arthur B. Gillette, Jennifer E. Hutt
Producer: Sylvie Randonneix
Production Company: Nord-Ouest Documentaires
Country: France

While all over the world many species are under threat, raccoons are experiencing unprecedented expansion. Behind their innocent and cute look, hides an outstanding survivor's temperament, capable of anything to feed and defend themselves. Omnivorous, curious, intelligent, and super-adaptable, raccoons turn out to be really good at overcoming every challenge they are confronted with. But how did these crafty critters manage to survivre in both the wild and urban environment? What make them so smart? And how did they flourish so quickly throughout the world? Over the course of a summer, this film follows a litter of young raccoons from birth to adulthood, on the wild island of Georgia, USA. Close-ups, subjective camera and underwater footage take us as close as possible to these pint-size creatures to reveal how they have become such amazingly adaptable animals.

Racoons, survival warriors

Jury comment: We thought that this film was charming from the off. The “masked bandit” is a far more interesting and complex animal than might first be thought. With her intimate portrait of a raccoon family Emma Baus impressively manages to convey the world of this survivalist to a broad audience. The film puts you firmly on the side of the featured racoons, as they navigate the trials and tribulations of life, and other species, and could well do much for the pest-like reputation of these adorable-looking mammals, egg-farmers aside! Well, in North America anyway, where they are not an invasive species!

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Raccoons, Survival Warriors – Emma Baus
Raccoons, Survival Warriors – Emma Baus

Special Mention (Man and Nature)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – About the Forest

About the Forest

Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Peter Magnusson
Composer: Roll the Dice
Producer: Ewa Cederstam
Production Company: Helion Film AB
Country: Sweden

Sweden has transformed more than 90% of its primeval forests and wilderness into tree plantations, and now the felling of the last stands of unprotected old-growth forests continues. How can we use the forest without consuming it?

20. MAFF | About the Forest - trailer

Jury comment: This is a film on a topic that is also very current here in Estonia, where the situation is the same as the one featured in the film "About the Forest". The faults of global industrial forestry and timber processing manifest themselves in a similar manner throughout the world. Suffering is left to the locals - forest ecosystems, animals that depend on them, humans included, not to mention seemingly less charismatic species such as mushrooms in the soil.

Tartu Nature House Special Prize

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Superbirds - The Secret Life Of Tits

Superbirds - The Secret Life Of Tits

Directors: Yann Sochaczewski, Marlen Hundertmark
Cinematographers: Marlen Hundertmark, Yann Sochaczewski, Pavel Grekov, Boas Schwarz, Mirco Tribanek, Atte Henrikson & Max Kujala, Werner & Cissy Maritz, Mark Emery, Benoît Demarle
Editor: Mirco Tribanek
Composer: Oliver Heuss
Producer: Yann Sochaczewski
Production Company: Altay Film
Country: Germany

Tits are intelligent, adaptable and sometimes cheeky. They are among our best-known and most popular domestic birds. Whether in the garden, in the forest or in the city, they can be found everywhere, chirping their song from the trees. We seem to know them very well – and can’t imagine a world without tits. But what do we really know about these common birds? Much of their life remains hidden from us. Do they have everyday problems, neighborhood disputes and jealousy dramas? It's time we take a closer look at the lives of our feathered friends, because no two tits are alike!

20. MAFF | Superbirds - The Secret Life Of Tits - trailer

Estonian Fund for Nature Special Prize

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Duty of Care - The Climate Trials

Duty of Care - The Climate Trials

Director: Nic Balthazar
Cinematographers: Pascal Poissonier, Ben Steensels, Arne Focketyn, Ant Leake, Kevin Raichl, Ingeborg Janssen, Haider Ali, Kenneth Machiels
Editors: Arne Focketeyn, Pascal Poissonier, Rob Cuypers
Producers: Nic Balthazar & Sarah Tak
Production Company: Wisteria
Country: Belgium

"Duty of Care - The Climate Trials" is the inside story of Roger Cox, the lawyer who initiated ground-breaking legal actions against the Dutch government and oil giant Shell. The result: two landmark rulings that sent shockwaves through political offices and corporate boardrooms around the world, and led to a wave of international climate cases. This is a character-driven journey through the highs and lows of his trials, featuring a cast of creative lawyers, activists, and ordinary citizens pursuing what they see as the legal showdown of the century. Their story is set against interviews with world-leading experts on the principles of justice that can be applied to the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

DUTY OF CARE, The Climate Trials. A Nic Balthazar film.

Matsalu National Park Special Prizes

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Kingdom of Fish Ep 1 - The River

Kingdom of Fish Ep 1 - The River

Director: Björn Tjärnberg
Cinematographers: Martin Falklind, Johan Falklind, Anders Lamberg, Rita Strand, Atte Henriksson, Max Kujala, Björn Tjärnberg, Linn Marnfeldt, Rebecca Brander, Hans Berggren, Espen Rekdal, Rolf Nylinder, Tobias Dahlin
Editors: Björn Tjärnberg, Afshin Tahmoury, Johan Falklind
Composers: Jan Lekemark, Mazdak Khosravi
Producer: Maria Ålander
Country: Sweden

Let’s travel through Sweden under water! Our journey starts in cold mountain creeks meandering through the breathtaking arctic landscape. The creeks gradually form large rivers as they flow toward the sea. Here we find the arctic char, trout, grayling and – king of the river – the salmon. All graceful species of salmonoid fish dependent on free-flowing rapids and clear, oxygenated water. But something has happened. Our Swedish rivers are no longer moving forward… Hydropower plants are everywhere, producing fossil-free energy. But what happens to our ecosystems when the river’s energy is captured and transferred to power cables?

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Kingdom of Fish Ep 2 - The Lake

Kingdom of Fish Ep 2 - The Lake

Swedes love their lakes, and have hundreds of thousands to choose from for relaxation. But few people have visited below the surface. Here the voracious pike rules the ecosystem. The fastest predator of the north, it attacks at the speed of a cheetah. Lakes are merely places where water rests for while, during its endless cycle. Treating lakes as separate units has led to a disconnection. The threatened European eel, once ubiquitous in inland Sweden, can no longer reach its feeding grounds in the lakes. Nor can it escape the lakes and reach the Sargasso sea to spawn.

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Kingdom of Fish Ep 3 - The Sea

Kingdom of Fish Ep 3 - The Sea

Sweden’s coastline is as long as the the globe is round. The Baltic and the North Sea once teemed with cod, haddock, herring, shellfish, flat fish, mackerel and eel. But today most of the seas have been fished out. The scarcity of predatory fish has destroyed marine ecosystems. The question asked in this film is how a rich and orderly country like Sweden can allow this to happen. But there’s hope. You’ll be surprised by the many odd inhabitants still down there. And did you know that 300-kilo bluefin tunas have made their comeback in Swedish seas?

20. MAFF | Kingdom of Fish - trailer

NGO Mondo Special Prize

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Shepherds of the Earth

Shepherds of the Earth
Director: Iiris Härmä
Cinematograper: Visa Koiso-Kanttila
Editor: Matti Näränen
Composer: Per Störby Jutbring
Producer: Visa Koiso-Kanttila
Production Company: Guerilla Films
Country: Finland

The story of the film takes place in Turkana, Kenya. This unique place is also known as the Cradle of Humankind where the discoveries of prehistorical human origins are made. The area is nowadays inhabited by the indigenous pastoral tribe called Daasanach. Our main character Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Spanish ethnobiologist arrive to Turkana to study the relationship between humans and nature. He becomes friends with a tribe member Job Nasak, who guides him into the daily life of the village. Alvaro gets impressed by traditional fables and animal stories of the tribe and he is asked to collect them for the first ever Daasanach language story book. The stories paint a picture of vivid nature and a rich wildlife. But while exploring the national park Alvaro discovers dry and bare landscape with hardly any animals left. So starts a fascinating story from the Cradle of Humankind, a story of the nomadic people’s struggle to survive, of poaching, nature reserve rangers, tribal wars over scarce resources and prehistoric fossils. The two worlds of biologists and the tribe members collide revealing the values of wildlife and nature for both.


Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Shepherds of the Earth - Iiris Härmä
Shepherds of the Earth - Iiris Härmä

Estonian Ministry of Environment Special Prize

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Great Swamp

The Great Swamp
Director/Cinematographer: Remek Meel
Editors: Lauri Laasik, Mirjam Jegorov, Remek Meel, Riho Västrik
Composer: Lauri Õunapuu
Producer: Riho Västrik
Production Company: Vesilind
Country: Estonia

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Great Swamp - Remek Meel
The Great Swamp - Remek Meel

Congratulations to all finalists and winners of the 20th Matsalu Nature Film Festival!!

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – The Egg Awards
The Egg Awards

This was my first time at MAFF and I can honestly say that it was one of the best festivals I've ever been to. Really well organised, incredibly friendly and in an extremely beautiful place! I can't recommend it enough. Enter your films next year and go if in any way possible ... You won't regret it!! :) JP

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Team MAFF - Organisers, jury members, helpers and particpants group photo
Team MAFF - Organisers, jury members, helpers and particpants group photo

Thanks so much to the organisers, especially Heli Tetlov, Silvia Lotman and Mart Valner, my fellow jury members Roman Droux, Sven Zacek (Nature Category) and Marina-Evelina Cracana, Madis Reimund, Kadri Tüür (Man and Nature Category) and all the contributers, film, photo and otherwise ... All in all, a brilliant festival of nature!!

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Raccoons, Survival Warriors – Emma Baus + jury members
Raccoons, Survival Warriors's Emma Baus, with jury members Roman Droux, Sven Zacek & Jason Peters (left to right)

Matsalu loodusfilmide festival – Playlist

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Team MAFF - A relexed MAFF festival event in a tent
A very friendly and relexed festival ...

Visit: maff.ee/en/festival/about-the-festival

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Food

Follow: facebook.com/matsalufilm, twitter.com/matsalufilm & instagram.com/matsalufilm

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – Drinks

Check out the MAFF flickr account: flickr.com/people/matsalufilm (Some photos here taken from there)

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022 – party band

Matsalu Nature Film Festival 2022

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