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SINGING REVOLUTION, THE (V)(director/writer: James Tusty/Maureen Castle Tusty; screenwriter: Mike Majoros; cinematographer: Miguelangel Aponte-Rios; editor: Mike Majoros; music: John Kusiak; cast: Linda Hunt (Narrator); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bestor Cram/Thor Halvorssen/Artur Talvik/Piret Tibbo-HudginsJames Tusty/Maureen Castle Tusty; Abramorama; 2006-USA-in English and Estonian with English subtitles)
“Effectively chronicles in a thumbnail sketch the blustery recent political 20th-century history of Estonia.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title refers to the Estonian independence movement. The film chronicles the song festival (Laulupidu) that began in 1869 and after the Soviet occupation in 1939 served as a peaceful protest through inspiring music. The song fest was seemingly the only way to hold the Estonian people together in a mass rally and tell the indifferent world that the country behind the Iron Curtain was an oppressed Soviet satellite, and in the long run this peaceful revolution through song proved to be a successful way for the small Baltic based Lutheran country to retain its culture and language as they finally after 50 years gained independence when the USSR crumbled in 1991. Hope began to glimmer in 1985 when the new and more enlightened Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev advocated glasnost (free-speech) and this emboldened the Estonian patriots to make demands for their freedom and gave Gorbachev more than what he expected. When the Communist hardliners arrested Gorbachev in a coup for going too far in free speech, the popular Boris Yeltsin rose to power and put down the coup and stopped the Soviet troops from invading Estonia and thereby ensured their independence.

The singing festival held in Tallinn, the capital, ever since the 20th-century, was a joyous and spirited time where every five years some 25,000 or so voices joined in to sing native songs and dressed in native costumes, even if under Soviet rule they also had to sing Communist propaganda songs. A patriotic unofficial national anthem for the nation’s forbidden nationalist effort was added with the song “Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love,” sneaked into the program repertoire in 1947 past the Soviet censors and has ever since become the rallying song of the festival for national pride.

The earnest political documentary by the American couple James Tusty (half-Estonian) and Maureen Castle Tusty effectively chronicles in a thumbnail sketch the blustery recent political 20th-century history of Estonia and the film also serves as a well-presented history lecture that schools couldn’t go wrong showing since very little is known about Estonia. Narrator Linda Hunt tells us “This is the story of how culture saved a nation,” and after seeing the film there can be no disputing that. The country’s woes begin when they were invaded in 1939 by the Soviet Union and how so many innocent citizens were sent to Gulags, where many never returned alive. During the war the German Nazis occupied the hardluck tiny country and added their brand of torture and misery, only to relinquish control after the war to the Soviets. This time the Soviets returned with a vengeance to suppress the Estonians even more so than before and encouraged Soviet citizens to move there and take over the private property of the Estonian big farms. During the height of the occupation some 40% of the population was Soviets. Today, after Estonia gained its independence, there’s still a 35% population of Russians.

The filmmakers tell their story, which took over four years to be put together, by mixing a number of moving interviews from those most involved in The Singing Revolution (the singers, activists, politicians, media personalities, teachers and Gulag survivors), touching footage and showing how singing folk songs was always part of the country’s cultural heritage.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”