By Mart Pikkov
Thirty six years ago Estonians everywhere but in Estonia were basking in the warm afterglow of the first Estonian World Festival. Tens of thousands of people from every part of the free world had gathered in and around Toronto for a week of conferences, expositions, competitions, singing, dancing, politics, parties and much, much more. The results wildly exceeded all expectations.
Toronto Mayor William Dennison had officially proclaimed it Estonian Week in Toronto, which, in 1972, was not nearly the multicultural bazaar that it is today. Foreigners parading down Yonge Street in broad daylight wearing funny costumes was News and the Estonian World Festival received its fair share of mainstream media coverage. While most were human interest stories, the political message – Freedom For Estonia – came through loud and clear as well.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was the official news broadcaster for the festival and CBC TV host Ken Cavanaugh was MC/ guest celebrity at many festival events. Hundreds of hours of film were shot and distilled into an hour-long documentary that was broadcast in Prime Time (!) on the entire English language network (!!) barely two weeks after the end of the festival(!!!) Enthusiastically narrated by the rakishly side-burned Mr. Cavanaugh, the film was well enough received to merit a second play.
Scheduled for later that year, the second broadcast was cancelled under mysterious circumstances. Eventually it was learned that the Soviet embassy had made a behind-the-scenes diplomatic protest over the appearance in the film of the Hon. Mitchell Sharp, then Secretary of State for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.
Sharp is shown in the film addressing the Festival’s opening ceremony at Seedrioru, cheerfully greeting the international visitors and praising the contributions of Estonian Canadians to Canadian society. Not shown in the film but prominent in the local newspaper coverage were his comments respecting the need for “open dialogue” with the Soviet Union – Canada was just then deeply engaged in the establishment of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which three years later bore fruit in the Helsinki Accords.
These divergent messages may explain why the audience response to Mr. Sharp, although polite, was much more restrained than the adulation bestowed the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, who is shown addressing the post-parade gathering in (a jam-packed) Nathan Phillips Square and forthrightly embracing the cause of Freedom, not only for Estonia, but also very definitely and unambiguously For Estonia. Then again, maybe it was just because Dief was the Chief and a crowd favourite wherever he spoke.
Rather than risk Soviet umbrage, the film about the Estonian World Festival ( though Mr. Cavanaugh’s attention seemed to have been captivated more by the Miss Estonia pageant and “1,000 female gymnasts” than anything else) the planned second broadcast was abandoned.
Over time the original edited film and the two copies disappeared or disintegrated through poor storage. About all that survived of the film was its title – Mr. Cavanaugh felt that “The Estonian World Festival 1972" was too ponderous a title for the TV Guide, so the final film came out as “Esto ‘72" – a neat, multilingual name. “Esto” has been applied to Estonian World Festivals ever since.
Then a little over a year ago, Ellen Valter, part of the EstDocs initiative, whose day job is as in-house legal counsel to the CBC, learned that there was a chance – not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless – that an “as broadcast” optical negative of the program might still exist in the CBC archives.
For a fee, the CBC was willing to try and locate the stored film and see if there was anything salvageable.
We were lucky. The audio is iffy in places and the video, although in colour, is very definitely 1972, but otherwise the whole film survived in one piece.
Unfortunately, we were not out of the woods. Although we paid for the salvage, the film remains copyright of the CBC and the legal world surrounding performance rights has changed a great deal since 1972. Music rights are particularly troublesome and there are many, many snippets of all sorts of music in the Esto ‘72 film. Each one had to be identified, copyrights ascertained and rights cleared before the film could be shown. This is a tediously difficult and expensive exercise, something that CBC, understandably, has little interest in pursuing for DVD sales.
To make a long story short, Estdocs did finally manage to secure CBC’s one-time permission to show this historic film strictly within the confines of our festival programme. Waivers and indemnities were signed and a single DVD was loaned out to Estdocs, which has scheduled two showings of the film as part of its 2008 festival programme.
Both showings are on Friday, October 24, which is the last day of the festival in Toronto. The first will take place at the Estonian House at 2:00PM. Esto ‘72 will be the only film shown that afternoon and there will be a moderated open-microphone discussion together with coffee and kringel after the screening.
The evening show will be part of the Estdocs ‘08 finale at Tartu College, beginning with a reception at 6:00PM. Finger foods will be served and a cash bar is available. The first film – “Fritsud ja Blondiinid” or “Nazis and Blondes” (Jaak Kilmi, 2008, Estonian with English subtitles) – starting at 7:00PM, explores the singular fact that in sovit times many Estonian and Latvian actors, with their “nordic” looks and accented Russian, made their careers playing evil invaders in the endless run of soviet films about the “great patriotic war”. Unfortunately this also helped create a stereotype that affects Russian and Baltic relations to this day.
Esto ‘72 will follow and close the festival. The evening, however, continues with a 1972 theme party. There will be Rolling Estonians and prizes for the best and most authentic 1972 costumes. If you have any Esto ‘72 memorabilia, please bring it along. Musical entertainment will be a la 1972, including a long-lost Kaja video of Jaak Järve’s, presented by DJ Robert Vessmann. Party just like it’s 1972, except nowadays we leave our cars at home and smokers do it outdoors.
This will be the first time that the Esto ‘72 film has been seen in 36 years and may be the last time for who knows how long? A unique up-close chance to see what you, your parents and/or grandparents, not to mention the world in general, looked like and were up to at an amazing time and legendary event. Admission to the 2:00 PM show is $10.00 and the evening show, with reception, will cost $15.00. Tickets are already on sale, in person at Estore or over the telephone (with credit card) through the National Estonian Foundation of Canada (416-465-5600).
Photos courtesy of Estonian Central Archives in Canada. Festival info at www.estdocs.com.
ESTDOCS 08 - The Estonian World Festival 1972