Urmas Jõemees: In Memoriam (1963-2023)

Urmas Joemees, Estonian cinematographer

Estonian animation director and artist Mait Laas writes about the Estonian cinematographer Urmas Jõemees, who passed away on 15 October 2023.

In Memoriam

Urmas Jõemees (November 15, 1963 - October 15, 2023)

When the world cinema classic 'Man with a Movie Camera' (1924, D. Vertov) idealized the cineaste as a utopian artist of the world, whose eye was the camera lens and whose substance was the light-capturing filmstrip, Urmas Jõemees, the departed animator, embodied this utopia of filmmaking on Earth during his lifetime. His life was dedicated to the art of animation, crafted with a great heart, body, and soul.

If we rewind the life filmstrip of this prolific animator, who passed away on October 15, 2023, back to the year 1986 when a 23-year-old graduate of Tallinn 2nd Technical School's photography program began working as an assistant cinematographer at Tallinnfilm's puppet animation department on 'The Spring Fly' (Unt/Volmer), you'll find that within the creative span of this incredibly active artist's 37-year journey, he contributed to more than 80 film projects.

He is perhaps most renowned in the history of world animation for his technical mastery and ambitious puppet animation works, which have become classics of auteur cinema – from 'Sprott Sunbathing' (1992, M. Kütt) to 'Cabbagehead' (1993, R. Unt), 'The Living Room' (1993, R. Heidmets), and extending to works from the past decade like 'Pilots on Their Way Home' (2014, P. and O. Pärn) and concluding with the boldly youthful 'The Old Man Movie' (2019, M. Mägi, O. Lehemaa).

The Living Room, Rao Heidmets (1993)

As a cinematographer-director with a modest, patient, highly empathetic, and experimental spirit, Jõemees worked on the realization of multifaceted and demanding creative visions, bringing complex ideas to life. He earned artistic recognition and trust not only from international collaborators, audiences, and film festival juries but also from fellow creators within the industry. He was a person who never refused to help others, whether working as a cinematographer, pyrotechnician, computer graphics artist, or editor in various studios for the benefit of Estonian cinema. In 2006, the Cultural Endowment of Estonia's Audiovisual Arts Division recognized Urmas Jõemees with an annual award for his outstanding contributions.

Less known to the public, perhaps, is Jõemees's commendable work as an educator - thanks to his generous heart and invaluable dedication, at the Estonian Academy of Arts, the Tartu Pallas Art School, and in collaboration with debut filmmakers. His wealth of knowledge and experience has helped first-time filmmakers find the essential self-assurance and a creative, sensitive approach to the art of filmmaking. He breathed life into the world – with humor and a tireless work ethic on the brink of human capabilities – nurturing animation, giving his life unreservedly until his final breath. It may sound grandiose, but it's a fact of a life well lived. Now, his mentees are spreading their creative ideas on screens worldwide (J. Girlin. M-L. Bassovskaja, A.L. Tuttelberg, and others).

Urmas Jõemees was a member of the Estonian Animation Association.

Sky Song, Mati Kütt (2010)

We have lost, without a doubt,  an esteemed creative cinematographer in the cultural landscape of Estonian and global animation. Although his films were left unfinished in this world, we may encounter and get to know his completed works on the screens that transmit the art of animation in the future. Endlessly.

Light to You!

 contributed by: Mait Laas,
on behalf of Nukufilm, Joonisfilm, Eesti Animaliit, EFI, EKL, EKA Animation, Operaatorite Liit ESC, Kõrgem Kunstikool Pallas, PallasFoto

First published in Estonian on

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