First occupied by the Soviets in 1939, then by the Nazis, and then by the Soviets again, Estonia lived through decades of terror. By the end of World War II, more than one-quarter of the population had been deported to Siberia, been executed, or had fled the country. Music sustained the Estonian people during those years, helping to maintain the Estonian language and sense of culture. It was such a crucial part of their struggle for freedom that their successful bid to re-establish their independence is known as the Singing Revolution.
The Singing Revolution film shares how, between 1987 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered publicly to sing forbidden patriotic songs and share protest speeches, risking their lives to proclaim their desire for independence.
The subjugation began in Estonia in 1939 with the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Stalin and Hitler that would ignite World War II, to the Siberian Gulag, to the oppressive control tactics of the 1980s. Estonia ultimately would be occupied for more than 50 years. It had no army, no weapons. Estonians knew they could not gain freedom through force. They had to do it their own way, with their spirit, patience and determination.
By the late-1980s, Mikhail Gorbachevs attempts to salvage the empire by offering perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (free speech) were backfiring, as Estonians saw the new policies as an opportunity. The nation was simmering with unrest. Momentum built to a crescendo in the summer of 1988 when a rock concert in the capitals Old Town Square was stopped by Soviet authorities. The powers in the communist party were afraid because these songs ignited the passions of the people, recalls artist/activist Heinz Valk.
The crowd walked three miles to a traditional song festival field to continue the concert, and massive crowds gathered for six straight nights to lift hands, sway in unison, and sing illegal patriotic songs. Emboldened, Estonians brought out their old blue-black-and white flags, some from attics and basements where they had been hidden for nearly 50 years. To their own dismay, no one stopped them. For the final night these protest more than 200,000 Estonians gathered.
This was the heart of the Singing Revolution. The force of the human voice massed in song was the cultural catalyst that awoke, energized and united the nation of Estonia. It was a political and cultural statement that brought all Estonians together and gave them courage to rebel. After that there was no turning up. Three primary freedom movements, with radically different styles, worked both publicly and surreptitiously to push the Soviet system. A series of clever political maneuvers, combined with ever-growing singing demonstrations, overwhelmed a confused and failing Moscow.
The next few years weighed with threats and violence from the struggling Soviet empire; twenty peaceful demonstrators in Latvia and Lithuania died at the hands of Soviet soldiers and hundreds more were wounded in January of 1991. Estonians feared they were next in line.
Later that same year, on August 19, 1991, a hard-line coup toppled Gorbachevs government in Moscow, creating chaos - as well as opportunity. The Estonian Soviet parliament united with freedom activist groups and voted unanimously to re-establish Estonias independence, not knowing how the coup would be resolved or what the repercussions might be. During the vote, Estonian citizens gathered at the TV tower and radio stations to link arm-in-arm in front of tanks, risking their lives to protect their main source of communication with the outside world. On August 21, 1991 the nightmare of the Soviet Union was over; and Estonia emerged - once again - a free nation.
The Singing Revolution tells the moving and dramatic story of how the Estonian people strategically, willfully, sung their way to freedom--and helped topple an empire along the way.
The Singing Revolution is the first film to tell this historically vital tale. This is a story that has not been told outside Estonia, said filmmaker James Tusty, who is of Estonian descent. We felt it was time the rest of the world knew of the amazing events that happened here.
In 1999, Tusty and his wife and co-producer Maureen lived in Tallinn, Estonia, while teaching film production at an Estonian University. The experience sparked their interest in the Singing Revolution, and in 2001 they returned to Estonia to teach and also to begin the meticulous research that would anchor their documentary.
To make the film, the Tustys interviewed more than one hundred movement leaders, Estonian statesmen, and average citizens. They also combed through archives around the world...unearthing rare, forgotten footage of life under Soviet rule.
Four years in the making, The Singing Revolution is a moving, intensely human testament to the sustaining power of hope and the motivating strength of song. The film reflects the indomitable human drive for personal freedom, political independence, and self-determination.