Indrek Ibrus (Tallinn University), Maarja Ojamaa (Tallinn University, Tartu University), Jaagup Kippar (Tallinn University)

The Demes of Estonian Film History: Analysing the Networks of Films and Their Makers

This paper discusses the results of of a study that used the relational databases of the Estonian Film Information System (EFIS, for interpreting the networks of films and their makers in Estonian post-war film history. For making sense of the ‘creative units’ in film history we used the ‘deme’ concept of Hartley and Potts (2014). A ‘deme’, originally coined in Ancient Attica, is for Hartley and Potts a population group that does storytelling together and in that creates a shared understanding of identity – ‘us-ness’. That is, it is a group that works auto-communicatively, at least to an extent, in terms of of Juri Lotman (1990). In this broad conceptual context a ‘deme’ for us was a group of filmmakers that perhaps shared an interest in similar forms of storytelling, or in represented objects or themes. These groups evolved together, by learning and motivating each other and they may have even articulated their shared position – i.e. they worked autocommunicatively in order to codify their group.

We hypothesised that the relatively rich dataset in EFIS would enable to study the evolution of such demes in Estonian film history. EFIS includes rich descriptions of each film ever produced in Estonia – on their makers, their contents, their screenings, their awards and their reception. As such they also constitute ‘nodes’ of networks – descriptions of ‘meetings’ of different filmmakers and other artists and what topics did they work on and what did they choose to represent in their films. In our study we, thus, used these descriptions to analyse the films exactly as such nodes of networks of people and the topics these people chose to do their storytelling about.

In terms of a more concrete analytic method we carried out what is conventionally known as ‘link analysis’ – we studied the links between makers and themes/representations. We focused on links where one counterpart was always a leading member of the creative team – either a director, producer or scriptwriter of the film. We also left out all animations and many other subtypes (educational films, newsreels, etc) as their inclusion would have undermined the analysis in various ways. We created also a clear division between documentaries and fiction films as their maker communities are quite differentiated. In our paper presentation we focus on the networks between documentary makers and themes/representations of the films. We demonstrate how the method can, indeed, reveal significant changes in maker demes and in their artistic choices. Yet, we discuss also how data quality may undermine such analytic endeavours.


Hartley, J. & Potts, J. (2014). Cultural Science: A Natural History of Stories, Demes, Knowledge and Innovation. London: Bloomsbury.
Lotman, Yuri. (1990). Universe of the mind: a semiotic theory of culture. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.