James Tusty on “The Singing Revolution” | How the Documentary about Estonia Peacefully Winning Freedom Came About

Director James Tusty

(Excerpted from The Singing Revolution website)

We are often asked how it came to be that we made the The Singing Revolution. This is the story.

Because of Jim’s family heritage [Jim’s father arrived in the U.S. from Estonia in 1924], we chose to teach semester-long filmmaking courses at an Estonian university in 1999 and 2001, and that’s how it all began…

While there, we learned about the Singing Revolution. We did not learn about it all at once, but step by step, much as Estonia won its freedom—small step by small step.

By 2003, we were determined to tell this story to the rest of the world. We had found virtually no one outside the Baltics who knew of the Singing Revolution. And yet it was one of the most amazing stories we had ever heard.

Laulupidu, the Estonian song festival held every five years that features 30,000 singers on stage, was to be held in 2004. Laulupidu played a key role in keeping hope alive during the Soviet occupation, and it was critical to capture it on film. If we missed shooting Laulupidu in 2004, the next festival wouldn’t take place until 2009.

Even without any funds in place, we didn’t want to wait another five years. So we made the decision to shoot for forty days between February and July of 2004, and our film adventure was underway. We were soon assisted with our first funds from Olga and Walter Kistler, followed quickly by additional support from Steve and Karla Jurvetson.

Editing took nearly two years. The story was complicated, and we wanted to get our facts right. Our research for archival footage was also extensive. At times, lack of funding slowed us down, but we never stopped inching ahead as best as we could.

On December 1, 2006, The Singing Revolution premiered at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia. We had made the film for the rest of the world, but we could think of no better venue for our international premiere. We were deeply touched by the fifteen-minute standing ovation the Estonian audience gave us.

Please learn about the Singing Revolution. It is not just a story about Estonia—it’s also a story about humankind’s irrepressible drive for freedom and self-determination.

Read about the upcoming screening of The Singing Revolution in Iowa City, October 4, 2009, a benefit for Iowa City Chamber singers.

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