The collections of the Film Archives include film and video material on Estonia from the early 20th century to the present. Organised acquisition of films started in 1935 on the basis of the Archives Act, and focused on newsreels. The earliest film footage dates back to 1908. The oldest domestic films were produced by Johannes Pääsuke between 1912 and 1914.
The Film Archives hold newsreels, newsreel segments, documentaries, music films, feature films, animated films, advertisements and amateur films. The archives are the repository for more than 8,000 titles of film and close to 7,000 original video titles. The collections also include outtakes from television programmes and films, fragments of films that have not survived in their entirety, and other additional materials such as film postproduction transcripts, screenplays and posters.
The archives have abundant audiovisual material related to cultural and sports events. The largest part of the film collection consists of newsreels, which offer a rich trove of material in the fields of genealogy, institutions, industry and agriculture. On military themes, there is unique footage from the Estonian War of Independence, the Defence League (Kaitseliit), the Defence Forces, and the Women’s Voluntary Defence Organisation (Naiskodukaitse).
The amateur films in the archives were shot by both cinematographers for whom it was a hobby and associations of amateur filmmakers connected to various institutions. The film archives have also acquired amateur films and video recordings documenting émigré Estonian activities abroad – for example, the Estonian Archives in Australia, the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City, the Swedish Estonian Society in Stockholm and the Boston Estonian Society collections.
From the pre-World War II period, only a few titles of feature films survive: ”Karujaht Pärnumaal” (Bear Hunt in Pärnu County, 1914), “Tšekaa komissar Miroštšenko” (Cheka Commissar Miroshchenko, 1925), “Noored kotkad” (Young Eagles, 1927), “Jüri Rumm” (1929), “Kire lained” (Waves of Passion, 1930), “Päikese lapsed” (Children of the Sun, 1932) and fragments of the films “Kevade unelm” (A Spring Dream, 1927) and “Vigased pruudid” (Defective Brides, 1929). The archives also are the depository for feature films produced by Tallinnfilm. After the Republic of Estonia regained independence, many private companies appeared on the film landscape, and up until early 2017, they had no obligation to hand their films over to the archives. As a result, the archives do not comprehensively represent the films produced in Estonia.