Hot Docs

Sundial Review: Feel the Passing of Every Season

Hot Docs 2023

2 mins read

(Estonia, 66 min.)
Dir. Liis Nimik
Programme: The Changing Face of Europe (North American Premiere)


The power of slow cinema creeps like the passage of the sun throughout this creative documentary by Liis Nimik. Sundial poetically observes rural life in Estonia. It matches the daily rhythms of the characters both human and animal that populate its frames. Shot exquisitely on 16mm, Sundial bides its time with the cadence of rural labour. This is immersive, experiential filmmaking that finds harmony in the passage of time and the changing of the seasons.

Nimik’s project results from seven years’ of exploring the Estonian countryside with her camera. While the 65-minute Sundial might feel like a seven-year journey for some audiences, it will delight those who embrace its patient pace. Nimik observes as citizens harvest crops and care to animals. The bleating of goats echoes throughout the film, while one can often see a cat scurrying through the frame—welcome action amid pensive pastoral portraiture. Fire evokes cycles of life and rebirth with its harsh light frequently enveloping the frame. Cinematographer Erik Põllumaa has a fine eye for natural light, which complements the sense of serenity quite nicely. Neither romantic nor nostalgic, Sundial harnesses the natural palette of these rural settings to convey life matter-of-factly. Life on the farm is simply this rough, this simple, and, depending upon one’s taste, this slow.

When real action happens, so to speak, Sundial lets viewers witness a community town hall. Speakers challenge a motion to amalgamate communities. It’s a loud, if orderly meeting. Speakers argue that bodies in the room don’t understand or appreciate the nuances of their lives. The film affords these nuances quite nicely, though. It conveys in experiential terms a lifecycle that needs to be experienced to be appreciated, if not understood.


Sundial screens at Hot Docs 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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