Sydney Film Festival Review: The Gold Spinners (Kullaketrajad) (Estonia, 2013)


Peedu Ojamaa once had the world’s greatest job. He was the founder and boss of the only commercial film studio in the Soviet Union at a time when the iron curtain ruled and there was a strictly planned economy. Advertisements were unnecessary as there was a shortage of goods due to government controls, but these same rules also specified that one per cent of a company’s budget had to be dedicated to advertising. This was like a licence to print gold and The Gold Spinners (Kullaketrajad) is an Estonian documentary that looks at this strange period in more detail.

The film is directed by Kiur Aarma (Disco and Atomic War) and draws together staged voice overs of Ojamaa as well talking head interviews with some of the directors from the period as well as a pop culture expert, a copywriter, and a model and singer who appeared in various commercials. Eesti Reklaamfilm studios were the brainchild of Peedu Ojamaa who had shown an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age when he asked for the discarded film negatives from the movie, Tarzan, and processed these into photographs, which he sold to his school friends.

From there, Ojamaa worked at the Evening Post as an on-scene reporter before being invited to cover a story on a film studio. When the Soviet Union granted a permit to make advertisements, Reklaamfilm studios was front and centre, as their ads used music, were more sharply edited and contained the things that people actually wanted to see. It didn’t matter if the products weren’t real or available for sale.

For a few seconds before film screenings, viewers were able to escape to the likes of: Paris, London, Finland, Italy or some other magical land. Another strange thing is that the Soviet governments over the years were paranoid about war secrets being released and checked things, but there were no rules or other censorship (like stopping nudity from being shown). The film ultimately reads like the perfect fodder for a segment or episode of The Gruen Planet.

The studio would make some 11,000 commercials and one of the directors even won a Bronze Lion award at Cannes. This documentary looks at capturing some of the more colourful advertisements- like one that was a “Thriller” music video parody, another featuring the Benny Hill theme, a commercial for motorcycles where an animation was used (as there was no bike) and one that even turned up in the film, Borat.

The Gold Spinners is an absurd, quirky and fun film. It could’ve been improved had a little more narrative been added to the story and context, but this is a minor quibble. Ultimately, this documentary is as bizarre as the creative work of the Soviet directors of the time and is easily the most upbeat set of newsreels and archive footage ever. Period.


The Gold Spinners (Kullaketrajad) screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival.


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