Banned choral singing became a Singing Revolution
|“A single nation. A million voices. An unstoppable dream…” The documentary film ‘The Singing Revolution’ shows how choral music played an imporant role in the small Baltic country’s struggle against its occupation by the former Soviet Union.
Most people don’t think about singing when they think about revolutions. But song was the weapon of choice when, between 1986 and 1991, Estonians sought to free themselves from decades of Soviet occupation. During those years, hundreds of thousands gathered in public to sing forbidden patriotic songs and to rally for independence.
“The young people, without any political party, and without any politicians, just came together … not only tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands … to gather and to sing and to give this nation a new spirit,” remarks Mart Laar, a Singing Revolution leader featured in the film and the first post-Soviet Prime Minister of Estonia. “This was the idea of the Singing Revolution.”
The centerpiece of the documentary film is a historic gathering in Estonia in 1969 when thousands of Estonians at a music festival defied the ban of a song which had become an unofficial national anthem, ‘Mu isamaa on minu arm’, or ‘Land of My Fathers, Land that I Love’ – written in 1947 with the lyrics from a traditional Estonian poem. They defiantly sang this song over and over again, even as the Soviet officials tried to shut the event down, and then tried to have the orchestra drown them out. They just kept singing it until the officials gave up and just let them go on singing.
Photo from singingrevolution.com
“Choirs and singers have to audition, and the end result is stunning to see and hear,” write the producers of the film on their home page, Singingrevolution.com, which contains background information about the film, the Estonian music, the film’s music score, as well as the history of Estonia, and with several examples of the music in MP3-format for download.
Estonians have historically used music as a political weapon as well. It is said that song was used in protest of the German invaders of the 13th century, and also in resistance to the Russian occupation under Peter the Great in the 18th century.
Understand Estonia through its music
They got inspired to make the film during the couple’s stay in Estonia in 1999-2001 where they were teaching semester-long filmmaking courses at an Estonian university. Using very rare archival footage and interviews with key newsmakers, the 96-minutes film is tied together by the narration of Academy Award-winning actress Linda Hunt. It took them four years to complete the work, together with their team of film makers and producers.
James Tusty’s father came to the US as a child from Estonia in 1924. James Tusty was raised with English as his primary language. In an interview by Jim Morekis, the film producer said that when he first heard about the socalled Singing Revolution, he remembered thinking that as far as he could tell no one else knew about this. “And while we all like to make fun of the American media and how poorly informed Americans are, I can tell you for a fact that no one in Western Europe has heard of the Singing Revolution either,” he said.
The archival footage in the film was compiled from the film archives of Estonia and Russia, independent filmmaker recordings, Soviet newsreels, home super 8 movies, home VHS tapes in PAL format, and Estonian Television footage – all together 80 hours of new footage, 10 hours of archival footage, and over 400 photographs.
The official North American release is 7 December 2007 in Los Angeles, followed by 14 December at the Village East in New York City. Several more American cities will follow after that, determined by the number of sign-ups the film gets on its website. People can enter their e-mail address and zipcode, and once the film gets 1,500 sign-ups in an area, it can be released there. “This is truly a grassroots effort and the sign-ups really do matter,” explained Maureen Castle Tusty to Freemuse.
‘The Singing Revolution’ screens at the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia, USA, on 30 October 2007 at 11:30 p.m. at the Trustees Theatre and 2 November 2007 at 9:30 a.m. at the Lucas Theatre. It is shown in Beverly Hills, California, in Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 Theater on 7-13 December 2007. Check the list of current screenings, and enter your sign-up, on the film’s website:
“I saw The Singing Revolution movie a few weeks ago at a film festival in Los Angeles. This documentary is very well done and incredibly moving. It’s a truly inspirational story about quest for freedom WITHOUT any suicide bombers or explosives with beautiful choral music throughout the movie. I recommend this film wholeheartedly to anyone interested in history, culture, music, political science – or curious about what was going on in the Baltics and elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain.”
“There are many breathless moments in the film.”
“We prepared five years for this song festival, the main purpose of which really was to come together as a nation, and sing this one forbidden song…”
Heinz Valk, activist who coined the term ‘Singing Revolution’
“The Estonian nation is very small and we have no more weapons than singing. This being together, singing together, this was our power…”
Toomas and Anne Raudberg, Singing Revolution participants
Connect Savannah Online – 23 october 2007:
‘Film Festival: When music & politics collide’