The Singing Revolution

Dates and Venue Opens 28 March 2008 @ Tinseltown, Vancouver

Interviewer Ross Pink

Interview with James Tusty

Documentary filmmakers James and Maureen Tusty's powerful and uplifting chronicle of the suffering, struggle and triumph of the Estonian people in the face of Soviet occupation is projected in this film which captures with detail and emotion the harrowing journey of the Estonian people as they endure years of occupation and repression. In a fascinating footage, over 100, 000 Estonians come together to protest and sing about freedom. The rallying cry “Estonian I am and Estonian I will be, as I was meant to be” ignited the passions and pride of the people. Hirvo Surva relates how his grandfather was shipped off to Siberia because he owned too much land. Tiia Ester Loitme, who was active in the singing revolution movement, was herself sent to Siberia, along with her mother and two sisters, at the age of 14; one-third of all people shipped off to Siberian labor camps were children. After WW2, the Russians returned to Estonia to continue their brutal occupation; an interesting segment, which serves so well to personalize the film, tells the story of Alfred Kaarmann, a ‘forest brother’ one of about 30,000 freedom fighters, who took to the rugged Estonian forests to fight the Soviet occupiers. RP


RP: Tell us about your  emotional tie to this film. Why was it an important project for you?

JT: Estonia played a critical, though little-known, role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.  And their main weapon was SINGING.  My wife and co-producer Maureen and I learned about the story while living in Estonia and decided if we don't tell this story, who will?

RP: Any big surprises or unique experience you can share about the making of Singing Revolution?

JT: One unique experience was that during shooting someone broke into our parked production vehicle and stole a $100 car radio while leaving $75,000 of film equipment behind.  I guess you do what you know how to do. The surprise was the complexity of the story.  Singing was the energizer, the mobilizer, of a resistance movement.  But once we dug into it, there was a host of political maneuvers, street politics, and international PR that all wove into the Singing Revolution.  It was very difficult to tell the complete story in an accurate, yet compelling and even entertaining, way.

RP: What kind of response are you getting to the film?

JT: The New York Times compared our film to "Casablanca".  It doesn't get better than that for an independent filmmaker.  The audience response has been universally gratifying.  "I cried", "It is so uplifting", and "I never knew" are the three most common phrases we hear.  The big studio behind this effort is Maureen (my wife and co-producer) and me.  The two of us are just running out of time to handle all the things going on right now.  A book is coming out in April, the DVD sometime in summer or fall, and there is even some talk of a roving museum exhibit.

RP: Every filmgoer takes away a different perspective. Yet is there a key message that you hope resonates with the audience?

JT: No key message.  Quite the contrary.  Maureen and I decided early on that we were going to tell a story...and tell it the best we can.  We chose not to impose any ideology or perspective on the events that happened as we are not political pundits or true historians.  But we are storytellers.  So we decided to communicate the astounding events of the late 1980s in Estonia, and then let each viewer bring their own views and background perspectives to these events.  As a result, we have fans from both the left and the right, from conservatives and liberals.  Each brings their own perspective to this story.  All we wanted to do was tell the story, not tell you what it means.

RP: Can you tell us about some of the film festivals you will be entering?

JT: We did not pursue the film festival circuit very much...we felt our film had other avenues to an audience.  That being said, we were "in competition", won awards, or were screened at Warsaw, Savannah, Cinema City (Los Angeles), Boulder, and Kansas Festivals.  We also had special screenings at the European Union Parliament and the U.S. Congress.  The White House requested a copy for review prior to its trip to the Baltics a year or so ago.

RP: What has the reaction been in Estonia?

JT: We theatrically released in Estonia in 2007 and have become the most successful theatrical documentary film in Estonian cinematic history...even though the film was produced in English, not Estonian.  We were double the box office of the number two theatrical documentary release.  We are very pleased about that.  To us, that means we got the story right. 

RP: Estonia has a rich culture yet is not widely known in North America. What do you think North American audiences will learn about Estonia and the Estonian spirit from your groundbreaking film?

JT: That is a big question.  I can tell you that one struggle with making the film for North American and European audiences was the lack of general audience knowledge about Estonia and Estonians.  If we were to make a film about a subject in France, we wouldn't have to explain where France is, who the French are, and some basics about their history.  But in our film, we did have to do just that...and worked very hard to "slip it in" in a way that doesn't feel like an "Estonian 101" college course.  The audience will learn the basics about this magical country without realizing they just had a lesson.

RP: There is a famous quote from the Indian poet, Tagore,  that dreams are wings for the souL. The film is a remarkable story about a dream. How did the idea-dream of a singing revolution get started and take off?

JT: This revolution started without leaders.  That's one of the amazing things.  The leaders emerged after the revolution started.  Estonians held hope for their freedom through nearly fifty years of a brutal Soviet occupation.  In the opening of the film we describe a little bit about the Estonian national character.  Among other observations, we say that in Estonia "Patience is a weapon.  Caution a virtue."  That's true, and that's how the Estonians won the war against all odds.  Instead of looking for an instant we tend to in the U.S. at least, and perhaps also in Canada...the Estonians gained one small inch at a time.  They moved ahead a little tiny bit one day.  Then they waited a week and gained one more inch.  Over four years, they won one inch at a time until they ended up playing a significant, if little known, role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Soviets didn't even know they were losing the chess game until it was too late to stop it. But for a fuller answer to this question, you have to see the film!  Please do.

© 2008 Ross Pink