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European-American Topics - Cinema - The Singing Revolution

The Singing Revolution's Filmmaker Jim Tusty in an interview with European Weekly
Interview by Elena Goukassian

Posted April 7, 2008


    The Singing Revolution, currently playing in Seattle, is a remarkable documentary about a small country called Estonia that gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The film chronicles Estonia's non-violent march to freedom. The filmmakers and producers of the documentary, Jim Tusty and his wife Maureen Castle Tusty, show how powerful music can be in an attempt to change politics.

    European Weekly's Elena Goukassian was able to talk to Jim Tusty over phone.


 Filmmaker Jim Tusty         

     European Weekly: What was the most interesting story someone who was actually present during the revolution told you? 

    Tusty: When the tanks came to Tallinn during the 1991 Soviet coup, many Estonians stood as human shields protecting the radio and TV stations.  One young woman told me of her 70-year-old grandmother putting on her best Sunday outfit, carefully putting on make-up in the bathroom, and  then, with purse in hand, announcing, "I am going to go to defend the TV tower against the Soviet tanks!  I'll be back later."  This revolution was fought by all Estonians...not just young men. 

    EW: Were you in Estonia at the time? Or a friend or relative? How did they react? 

    Tusty: I was in Estonia in 1986, which could be considered the very beginning of the Singing Revolution.  But it was invisible to us at the time.  Everything was totally Soviet controlled.  You couldn't rent a car without an official "driver", and Estonians were not allowed in the Soviet hotels where foreigners stayed.  During a Soviet-guided tour, our group noticed graffiti on a wall.  When asked about it, the guide said that there are vandals in every country, it was just the work of hooligans.  My father was with me, and he spoke Estonian.  He read the graffiti.  It said "People of the world, hear our cries.  The world is being lied to!" 

    EW: Why had they come up with singing in particular as a form of protest? Why not dancing or performance art, etc? 

    Tusty: Estonia has a strong and ancient singing tradition.  This tiny country has one of the largest folk song collections in the world.  And since the 19th century, Estonians have gathered every 5 years or so to sing in massive song festivals where 30,000 singers get on stage to sing one song.  That's half of Yankee Stadium during the World Series singing in harmony.  It takes ten minutes for the singers just to take their places.  Singing is in Estonia's DNA. 

    EW: Did someone come up with the idea o singing or was it a spontaneous thing? 

    Tusty: This was a leaderless revolution in the beginning.  In June of 1988, the young people at a concert started singing songs that alarmed the Soviet authorities.  The authorities shut down the concert.  Then 100,000 people walked 3 miles to an open field and continued singing.  Then the people gathered every night for a week to sing these forbidden songs...singing into the early hours of the next morning.  The Soviets just didn't know what to do.  Even they understood the absurdity of beating people up for singing. 

    EW: What was the USSR's reaction to it? Particularly that of the soldiers who witnessed it firsthand? 

    Tusty: They were confused.  Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika were just confusing to the average Soviet bureaucrat.  They didn't know what was expected of them.  So they let things happen.  By the time Moscow figured out the power of this revolution, it was too late.  Check mate. 

    EW: Was it just in Tallinn or throughout Estonia? 

    Tusty: The revolution took place throughout all of Estonia.

  The film is playing at the Varsity Theater  until April 10.



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