James and Maureen Tusty produced the documentary To Breathe As One last year (trailer here), a film focused on the Song and Dance Festival (Laulupidu). It had its Estonian television debut on Friday, and is now available on DVD in Estonian bookstores and DVD retailers. It is also available free for video streaming for viewers inside Estonia on the ERR website through Thursday.
Their best-known work is 2007's The Singing Revolution (trailer here), a film that portrays the role of the Song Festival in Estonia's move to re-establish independence from the Soviet Union.
Now with Russia's seizure of Crimea and its slow-motion conflict in eastern Ukraine, James Tusty said with the basing of US troops in Estonia, he sees an angle to educate the American public about the political situation in eastern Europe.
"Very few Americans know that there are US troops based in Estonia in reaction to Putin’s invasion of Crimea, and I would love to do a half-hour film on those troops stationed in Estonia," Tusty said, referring to the 173rd Airborne Brigade which is now housed in Paldiski. "But in the course of focusing on them, I would start revealing a little bit of the history of Putin in Georgia, Putin in Ukraine, and Putin’s threats recently about Finland and the Baltic countries being a historical part of Russia."
Tusty said that instead of a theatrical release as the last two films have had, he envisions using the Sunday morning television schedule in the US. That time slot on network TV focuses on political-oriented talk shows like "Meet the Press" and "This Week", which regularly feature interviews with high-profile figures from the US administration. Tusty said that this is a good time to place contemporary news programs.
"I’m quite confident that we could get it placed around the political talk shows," he said. "It was an idea that came to Maureen and I when we saw what was happening in Ukraine.
"The short-term issue is if we can raise money for the film. Most Americans still don’t understand much about Estonia, even for that matter Putin, or Eastern Europe in general. I feel we have an opportunity to educate Americans, especially an educated demographic – the kind of people that watch “Meet the Press” and the other political talk shows. It would be a chance to educate a certain percentage of influential Americans of the realities of Eastern Europe, (Vladimir) Putin, Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia. If any of your readers have some ideas about who would be interested in funding such a program, by all means they should e-mail us."
The Tustys are currently working on another film project, called Breaking the Caste, which focuses on how certain political and economic freedoms are helping to reduce the influence of the caste system in India. The film focuses on the "Untouchable" dailit, or social status group, born even lower than the four primary castes in the traditional Hindu system.
"Using the caste system to make decisions has been illegal in India since its founding, but it hasn't stopped it from playing a role," Tusty said. "It is somewhat similar to racism in the US, which is banned, but you can make an argument that it has an effect at some level in some places.
"In India, we follow four stories about political rights and economic freedom, and looked at the so-called Untouchable dalit. We found a man whose parents were, if not slaves, certainly servants, with very limited wealth and work activity. He somehow pulled himself up by the bootstraps – earned a college degree, learned to speak English, and is now a millionaire with a construction business. And it was fascinating to talk to this man about how he could come out of the system, and through economic freedom, frankly gain some personal freedom for himself. He’s more accepted in society."
Tusty, the son of an Estonian who emigrated to the US in the 1920s, said a third film with an Estonian face is something he would dearly love to do. He has yet to start fundraising for the film, but any support, monetary or otherwise, he can get from the Estonian government, businesses, or the public at large, would increase the chances of making it a reality.
"Since we would be going on commercial television, not public television, for this piece – it’s a more natural fit – there will be TV spots available in the program," he said. "So if the Estonian tourist board, or, for that matter any Estonia company, is interested in reaching the American audience with TV commercials, there would be six TV commercial embedded in this half-hour program.
"A lot of the money we’d have to spend on this film is travel and room and board. If we can find an Estonian partner that can cover hotel and food for the crew it would reduce the cost of this film by a substantial amount."
The Tustys, who attended the Song and Dance Festival last weekend, will be in Estonia until Friday. "I will take any meeting I can while we are here," Tusty said. "I'm really interested in doing that film. The Ukraine events really concern me."