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 ...
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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." James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty's "The Singing Revolution" tells the moving story of how the Estonian people peacefully regained their freedom--and helped topple an empire along the way. Written by
Times like this I wish there were a number above 10
I'm pretty generous with films which I like -- if I'm really enjoying something, I'll usually give it a 10. Some people save 10 for that rare film that comes along every couple of years, and I wish I did that, so I could bestow a rare 10 on this film. But, 10 is as high as it goes.
I saw it at Cinema Sundays at the Charles, here in Baltimore. As the director, who presented the film, said about persuading people to see the movie, "Let's see, it's a film about a singing revolution in Estonia, what shall we do instead?" But, he said, once people see it they love it. Certainly we did -- there was applause for two-thirds of the credits, and then a long, partially standing, ovation for the director after the credits were over.
The film opens with history -- the Soviet occupation of Estonia under Stalin, then the Nazi occupation, then after that the Soviets again.
Then it goes to the present day -- a man is conducting what seems to be a chorus of thousands of people, of all ages, in a song -- the subtitles tell you it's a patriotic song. The shots of the faces of the singers and the audience are warm and moving -- most of the people are smiling --some in the audience are holding back tears. The physical beauty of the people and the setting, combined with the welling voices and harmonies, are powerful, entrancing.
The movie then describes, through incredible archival footage combined with interviews with people who participated on various sides, Estonia's use of song and non-violence to precipitate the downfall of the Soviet Union.
This is a story and a half -- and it's much more powerful because you know, incredibly, it really happened. This is a story of people who, after thousands of years on the land, were occupied by Germany in the 1200s and were essential serfs for 600 years. In 1869 their awakening nationalism led to the first singing festival (Laulupidu).
In 1918 the country declared independence, but after about 20 years the land was again occupied, this time by Bolsheviks. The land was then briefly occupied by Nazi Germany, and then became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In 1947, the Singing Festival was reborn. To mark the occasion, a composer wrote a tune for a patriotic poem, which translates as "Land of my fathers, land that I love" in English, and it became a musical symbol of the desire for independence of the Estonian people. But in 1969, the 100th anniversary of the singing festival, the Soviets forbade the singing of "Land of my fathers." Nevertheless, the choir, having sung their Soviet songs, refused to leave the stage, and 20,000 audience members began singing "Land of my fathers" in defiance of the authorities. Eventually the Soviets allowed the song's composer onto the stage to conduct the song, as though it was their idea all along.
That act of defiance -- that singing of a song -- marked the start of a non-violent revolution which brought independence to Estonia and led directly to the breakup of the Soviet Union. The movie details the various times when things could have gone wrong -- the times when the Estonians might have gone too far and precipitated a bloodbath. But, through a combination of bravery and a stubborn refusal either to back down or provoke, Estonian nationalists created a unique revolution -- the Singing Revolution.
This is a gorgeous story -- a story of persistence, bravery, sacrifice. This is a movie which will appeal to the Left and the Right. It's a movie which makes a case for nationalism. It's a movie which will inspire you.
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