WS Course: Documenting Stories of Escape and Survival (BIOL/HIST15)

FILM May 1990 Conflict at Capitol - CelebrationDocumenting Stories of Escape and Survival

Between 1940 and 1945, the Baltic nation of Estonia lost 25% of its population to execution, deportation to Siberian labor camps, imprisonment and conscription into the occupying German and Soviet armies. An additional 70,000 people fled the country in desperation to save their lives, and some of those are still alive and living on the East Coast of the US. Students in this class will contribute to an ongoing international project to collect and share stories about Estonians’ experience under both German and Soviet occupation and the crimes against humanity committed by these totalitarian regimes during and after WW II. In collaboration with the Unitas Foundation, based in Estonia, students will interview members of the Estonian diaspora and create short films for the digital database of video stories established by Unitas and archived at Stanford University. Through documentary films and readings, we will spend the first week of WS learning about the history of this remarkable country’s fight for self-determination, and the non-violent “Singing Revolution” that brought the Estonians their freedom and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. In week 2, along with training in film editing, we will explore the goals of oral history and the process of creating narrative through documentary film before traveling to New York City and Baltimore/DC on Jan. 15-19 for four days of professionally filmed interviewing. While in DC, we will be hosted by the Estonian ambassador to the US, and will interview him at the Estonian Embassy. Upon our return to Williamstown, each student will edit his or her interview to produce a final 10-minute film for the “Kogu me lugu” (“Collect our stories”) web-based collection.

Class will meet MWF 10 AM-12:50 PM. Mandatory field trip Jan. 15-19 to NYC and Baltimore/DC; students will stay with Williams alumni in both cities.

Readings will include approximately 100 pages of essays and memoirs, as well as one short story, one novel, and short excerpts from a second novel. Additional time outside of class may be required to complete the editing process and to view short film clips.

About the Co-Instructors (Teaching with Lois Banta):

James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty are a husband and wife filmmaking team. They founded, owned and operated a private communications firm called Mountain View Group, Ltd. , which served some of the largest international corporations in the world, such as GE, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and IBM. In 2008, they sold Mountain View Group and opened Sky Films Incorporated (SFI), a production company dedicated to documentary films. Their first release, “The Singing Revolution,” played in 125 North American theatrical markets and was one of the most successful feature documentaries of 2008. The New York Times wrote of the film, “Imagine the scene in Casablanca in which the French patrons sing ‘La Marseillaise’ in defiance of the Germans, then multiply its power by a factor of thousands, and you’ve only begun to imagine the force of The Singing Revolution.” The couple recently released a second documentary, “To Breathe as One,” about the 30,000 singers and 100,000 audience members who come together once every five years for the Estonian Song Festival, and the integral role this festival has played in maintaining strength and national identity for a people who have faced cultural genocide multiple times in the last 150 years.

Related Links:

The Cost of Remembering

American Students Document Estonians’ Memories of Soviet and Nazi Occupations

Student profiles