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Matsalu nature film festival

The Festival is named after the Matsalu National Park, one of Europe's largest bird sanctuaries and a wetland environment of global significance.


Matsalu nature film festival

The inaugural Matsalu Festival, held from October 3rd to 5th, 2003, in Lihula, derived its name from the nearby Matsalu National Park, a notable European bird sanctuary. The festival’s inception was a collaborative effort between the Lihula municipality, Matsalu National Park, the Estonian Nature Foundation, and various filmmakers.

The festival’s opening event showcased a selection of Estonia’s oldest nature films, including “Dredging the Kasari River” (1931) and “Vilsand’s Bird Kingdom” (1937). Additionally, Rao Heidmets’s new puppet film “Instinkt,” which had recently won the award for best nature-themed animated film at the “Green Vision” festival in St. Petersburg, was screened. The opening night concluded with the internationally acclaimed feature film “Kestrel’s Eye” by Swedish director Mikael Kristersson.

The first festival featured 23 films from seven countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Poland, and New Zealand. The total runtime of the competition program spanned 10.5 hours, attracting over 2,500 attendees.

Over the years, the festival has expanded from Lihula to encompass various locations across Estonia, including Narva, Tallinn, Viljandi, Saaremaa, and others. Since 2017, a selection of festival films has been screened at the Pürks Culture House, and in 2018, the festival expanded to Pärnu. Starting in 2020, guest screenings will be held throughout Estonia during the second week of the festival.

The annual festival offers a diverse lineup of international nature films covering topics such as wildlife, human-nature interactions, environmental sustainability, conservation efforts, expeditions, indigenous cultures, and more. Approximately half of the films are featured in the international competition program, competing in two categories: “Nature” and “Man and Nature.” A jury of filmmakers and nature experts selects the winning films.

In addition to film enthusiasts and filmmakers, the festival welcomes nature photographers and enthusiasts. Nature photography exhibitions are a staple of the festival, and visitors can participate in Photo Day events, which offer workshops, educational presentations, and showcases of the latest photo and video technology.


The festival’s opening day is dedicated to nature education, with screenings for students and workshops where filmmakers and photographers share their work and tools with children. Joint school visits are also arranged. Additionally, the festival includes art exhibitions, concerts, and discussion groups focused on environmental topics.

The Matsalu Nature Film Festival has become an established tradition, marking its 21st year as one of the oldest nature film festivals in the Baltics and the Nordics. It proudly stands alongside its sister festival in Vaasa, Finland. Recognized for its cultural significance, MAFF has gained both local and international recognition, and since 2017, it has been awarded the EFFE (Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe) quality label.

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