Why don’t young people return to Estonia? Doc film and discussion delves into difficult topic

Updated: May 26

Update #142


Family photo
From left, Dr. Terje Toomistu, Carmen Kehman, Ellen Valter

Most young people who leave Estonia would love to return home, but a variety of reasons often keep them tied to their new lives abroad. With the passing of time, return becomes increasingly difficult, or unimaginable.


This more recent migratory pattern is one of the main findings researcher and documentary filmmaker Dr. Terje Toomistu gleaned through research that included an online survey of 2,000 young people who came of age after Estonia joined the European Union, and who have left Estonia.


The study informed her newly released and engaging documentary film “Homing Beyond,” ("Põlvkond piiri taga") presented by Estonian Arts Centre on May 18 at the Alliance Francaise theatre in Toronto. Reflecting the evolving nature of the Estonian diaspora is one of the objectives of KESKUS International Estonian Centre, with which Estonian Arts Centre, a charity, is associated.


A lively post-screening discussion with the audience, moderated by Ellen Valter, project lead with KESKUS, followed. Terje described how she developed the idea for the film, gained funding and painstakingly conducted the interviews remotely, during the pandemic. This process called for creative solutions on how to keep the scenes intimate and captivating.




The film comprises interviews with 21 young people who have moved to countries like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and England. The candid interviews highlighted the mixed emotions these “Generation Y” Estonians felt as they described how they both missed their homeland, but also of the push from Estonia or the pull of other cultures. The push and the pull were found to be due to a need to match value systems, for economic reasons or just a sense of wanderlust that over time became permanent. With a better match in a different country and culture, the interviewees shared how they have integrated new cultures and countries into their lives.


One of the film’s ‘stars’, Carmen Kehman, was in attendance and participated in the post-screening discussion. Carmen grew up in Estonia and now lives in Toronto. Carmen’s mother is Estonian and her father is from Ecuador, and she described how she didn’t always feel a sense of belonging in Estonia, when asked about her jet-black hair or distinctive eye colour…distinctive because it’s not blue. The diversity in multicultural Toronto feels like a better fit for the University of Toronto masters graduate.

Liivi Sermat Cooke & Genevieve Perron of NET: Noored Eestlased Torontos

Vincent Teetsov introduced Terje (more by Vincent on the mobility of Estonians, based on his interview with Terje here), Terje is an anthropologist and researcher in the Department of Ethnology at the University of Tartu. She is no stranger to documentary filmmaking having won the EstDocs Jury Award in 2017 for her film “Soviet Hippies”. Currently, her main research focus points are related to gender, mobility and affect. She attended the event as part of its North American release, and Toronto was the first stop.


Terje notes that there were several hours of film shot for each interview, and much rich material remains to be shared. She hopes to create other communications products, such as a website that allows for these touching stories to reach a broader audience.


Thanks goes to the organizing help for the event: guests enjoyed reception refreshments courtesy of Northern Birch Credit Union and Karin Ivand and the recently formed “NET: Noored Eestlased Torontos” helped with event logistics.


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