In honor of my departed friend, Patrick… A review of The Singing Revolution

I posted on my main blog about my friend, Patrick Killough, who died yesterday after a battle with leukemia.  The review below prompted my first online meeting with Patrick, who was a delightful man who lived near Asheville, North Carolina.  He enjoyed the movie after reading my review, so I’ve decided to repost it here in his honor.

The Singing Revolution… a very moving film about Estonia’s journey to freedom

Jan 10, 2010 (Updated Jul 20, 2011)
Review by   

Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating:Excellent

  • Action Factor: 
  • Special Effects: 
  • Suspense: 

Pros:Very inspiring and moving documentary about Estonia.


The Bottom Line:The Singing Revolution shows how the power of music can overcome oppression and despair.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie’s plot.

Last summer, my husband Bill and I took our very first cruise. Although we were both hoping for a trip to the Greek Isles, we ended up with a Baltic itinerary. One of the exciting ports of call we visited was Tallin, Estonia. I was particularly interested in seeing Estonia because it was once one of the fifteen republics that had made up the Soviet Union. In the mid 1990s, I spent two years of my life living in another former Soviet republic, Armenia. I wanted to see how Estonia was faring since the fall of the once great Soviet empire.

Tallin, Estonia turned out to be a wonderful place. Bill and I wandered around the old town, very impressed by how well preserved the medieval city was. Although we only got to spend a few hours there, I found myself mentally planning to come back someday. Then, the other day, while dreaming of my next trip to Europe, I read a CNN travel article about Estonia.  The author mentioned renting the movie The Singing Revolution, a documentary film about Estonia’s great love for singing and how it helped them achieve independence. Intrigued, I immediately went to iTunes and downloaded the film so I could see it for myself.

The premise

Estonia has a long, complicated history as a land that has been passed around and fought over by a number of different peoples. It has been a Swedish, Danish, and Russian territory at different times in its history. In the last 100 years, it was invaded by Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union as well as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In the wake of these invasions, thousands of ethnic Estonians were killed, sent to prison in Siberia, or just plain disappeared. Thousands more fled to other countries, hoping to be able to return to their homeland someday.

The Singing Revolution introduces viewers to several people who were directly influenced by Estonia’s history. We meet a conductor whose grandparents were killed during the Soviet invasion. We meet a female conductor who, along with her family, was herself sent to a Siberian prison camp at age 14. We also meet a man who was considered a “Forest Brother”; he and other men lived in the forests of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for years and worked against the Soviet occupation through guerilla warfare.

The film very touchingly paints a picture of the way Estonia was “Russified”; Russians were moved into the country as a way to homogenize the culture and stamp out the Estonian majority. People lived in oppression, unable to express themselves freely. For fifty years, life went on this way until the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev was the President of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev sought to reform the Soviet Union and improve its lagging economy through perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). Through these new reforms, more freedom of expression was allowed among the Soviet people. Estonians now had the power to protest.

Starting in 1987, Estonians began to demonstrate by singing. In 1988, as many as 300,000 Estonians aided by Estonian rock musicians were singing Estonian national songs and hymns that, under Soviet rule, had been forbidden. One man in the film quipped that when thousands of people start to sing, it’s impossible to shut them up. That’s exactly how the Estonian people started to be heard. Meanwhile, by 1989, formerly Communist Eastern Europe was starting to disintegrate. One by one, countries were rejecting Communism and demanding freedom. In 1990, Estonia openly defied the Soviet Union by offering aid to Estonian residents who wanted to avoid being drafted into the Soviet Army. And of course, by 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled.

My thoughts

I found this film extremely moving, especially since the Singing Revolution happened relatively recently. The film shows how everyone– men, women and children– came together to reclaim their independence against a mighty opponent. I also found this film very informative. Although I was a teenager and young adult when all of this stuff was going on, I was woefully uninformed about it as it was taking place. It was very interesting to me to be able to see this story unfold in a powerful and beautifully filmed documentary. Finally, I found this film satisfying on a musical level. I am myself a singer, so I was very interested in hearing the music the very talented Estonians produced. I found it very inspiring on an artistic level.

And now…

I’m dying to go back to Estonia. In fact, I’d love to take a trip to all three Baltic nations to learn more about their history and peoples. The Singing Revolution was a very worthwhile film in terms of giving a perspective of what it was like for Estonians in the wake of World War II. It was fascinating for me, as well, because I spent time in Armenia, where the Russians were seen more as saviors than oppressors… the Russians saved the Armenians from the Turks.

Having just spent two years on a continent that was so heavily affected by World War II, I now find myself much more eager than I ever was in the past to learn about what happened during the war. There’s nothing like actually going to a place to develop an appreciation for it and a desire to learn more. Estonia is not one of those places that’s easy to visit, particularly from America. Watching The Singing Revolution may be one of the next best alternatives to visiting.


I highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in history, particularly as it affected the Soviet Union and the Baltic region. I also recommend it to anyone who enjoys music, powerful, inspirational stories about triumph, and a good documentary. The Singing Revolution runs for 97 minutes and is unrated. It’s a film by James and Maureen Trusty.

For more information: http://www.singingrevolution.com

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 – 12


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