(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is a powerful and emotional account of 71 years of the history of Estonia and especially how the Estonian spirit freed the country from the leash of the Soviet Union. The film combines beautiful choral music with the dramatic story of the country's fight for independence. Directors Maureen and James Tusty and narrator Linda Hunt bring a dramatic tension unusual in pure documentaries rising to a climax with the account of the 1991 Soviet coup and its attempt to seize the country. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

In the 1990s I took the opportunity to travel both in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics. This was shortly after the fall of communism. I was struck that each of the newly liberated countries took to freedom in distinctly different ways. Czechoslovakia--it still had that name--seemed to involve itself in artistic description of their joy of freedom with plays and posters. Budapest seemed to be involved creating fancy upscale department stores. There was less variation in the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. I do believe in Estonia that we were aware that there was a singing concert in a church we visited. I think we did not know how vital singing was to the Estonians. In fact, perhaps more than any other people, the Estonian people consider singing to be a major part of their soul that defines who they are.

The singing carried the people through some painful recent history. Starting in 1940 they were occupied first by the Soviets, then the Nazis, and then again the Soviets until the early 1990s. Their desire to be a free and independent country again they expressed in their singing. For that time it was nearly the only outlet they had for their feelings of national pride. Today they credit their freedom from tyranny to their singing. THE SINGING REVOLUTION tells the story of those years of occupation, how singing kept their nation alive, and how it eventually proved more powerful than the chains that held them.

Estonia won the Estonian Liberation War and won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1920. But it was the path between the Soviet Union and the Baltic Sea. It enjoyed two decades of independence while the Soviet Union desperately wanted a road to the Baltic. The Soviets, emboldened by its agreement with Germany, the illegal Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, occupied Estonia in June 1940. The pact proved to be useless to the Soviets and Germany took Estonia away from them in 1941. During the war a full one quarter of the population died. By 1944 the Germans could no longer hold Estonia and the Soviets took it back. Each time the country changed hands tens of thousands were murdered for defending their country or for supposedly having collaborated with the other side. Tens of thousands of Estonians were deported to Siberia and Russians flooded in to occupy the country. Estonia remained under the Soviet heel until 1991 and credits its eventual liberation to singing and especially to the Laulipidu.

The Laulipidu is the Estonian Song Festival founded in 1869, a huge event considering the size of Estonia. As many as 30,000 singers on a single stage will sing in combined choral harmony. And the real event of the festival is always the singing of "Land of My Fathers, Land that I Love". The Soviets during their occupation tried to take over the song festival and turn it to singing pro-Soviet songs, but they could not stop the spontaneous singing of "Land of My Fathers". They had no way of arresting tens or hundreds of thousands of people singing of their love for their country.

Linda Hunt narrates the documentary story of Estonia from 1920 to the eventual reinstatement of freedom and independence in 1991. In 1985 the Soviet's could no longer deny the economic failure of the Soviet system and instituted the economic revisions of Perestroika and the relative freedom of speech of Glasnost. These the Estonians leveraged to create what freedom they could manage for their country. The film builds to a crescendo when in 1991 the coup in Russia removed Mikhail Gorbachev from power and Soviet hard-liners sent tanks into Estonia to seize the country, crack down on it, and control it. This was when the Estonian people stood together in nationalism to hold back the tanks. When the coup in Russia failed and the tanks were withdrawn Estonia declared its independence to the sound of "Land of My Fathers" and started the dominoes falling of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. THE SINGING REVOLUTION powerfully tells the story of those days and insets interviews with the major players of the 1991 revolution.

This is history as moving as fiction and as entertaining. I rate THE SINGING REVOLUTION a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper