Film Review - “Roots - One Hundred Years of War and Music”
EstDocs 12 Oct 2011  EWR
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2010 was the birth centenary year of Olav Roots (1910–1974), who was an Estonian conductor, pianist and composer who began his career as the conductor of Estonian Radio Orchestra (the predecessors of the present-day Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (ENSO)) from 1939–1944. He escaped the Soviet Russian Occupation and emigrated to Sweden in 1944 and in 1952 he moved to Colombia, South America where he founded that country’s first professional symphony orchestra - the Orquesta Sinfonica de Colombia - and was its principal conductor until his death in Bogotá in 1974.

Katrin Laur’s film “Roots - One Hundred Years of War and Music” portrays Olav Roots’ dramatic life story to the accompaniment of his own music. This is primarily that of his Symphony which was premiered in Colombia in 1967 and which received its Estonian premiere on his birth centenary date of February 26, 2010. Rehearsal and performance footage of the work with ENSO and conductor Arvo Volmer are cut throughout the film and the descriptive titles of the four movements of the symphony are used as chapter headings throughout.

We see an overview of Roots’s academic career that involved piano studies with Artur Lemba and composition with Heino Eller in his homeland. Conducting studies took him far afield to work with Felix Weingartner in Vienna and Nikolai Malko and Clemens Krauss in Salzberg. When he assumed the conducting post of the Radio Orchestra he made it a point to program the complete orchestral works that Estonian composers had written up to that time. Interviews throughout the film with both Estonian and Colombian musicians provide fond recollections and anecdotes that convey how warmly Roots was regarded and respected. A charming segment with Roots’s widow Astrid Roots and their Colombian friend Mercedes Pardo recalls how he put the Colombian Bach Choral Society to singing Estonian Christmas Carols.

The “War” aspect of the film is not overdone. There is a brief segment that refers to Roots’s surprise at the level of destruction wrought by the Colombian “La Violencia” uprisings between the years 1948 to 1958 when he arrived in his new homeland in 1952. Roots had no doubt thought he could put memories of the destruction caused by the European World War II behind him and found there were new political problems in this New World as well.

Along the way in the film, we also meet Olav Root’s grandsons, Julian and Nicholas Roots, who live in Miami, Florida. They never met their grandfather and they are only now beginning to discover his personal history and also that of their ancestral homeland. The film follows them as they travel to Estonia for the first time, in a search to discover their own “roots”.

“Roots - One Hundred Years of War and Music” will have its Canadian Premiere screening along with the winners of the EstDocs 2011 Short Film Competition on Friday, October 14, 2011 at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Reitman Square, 350 King Street West (St. Andrews subway station). Reception at 6 p.m. followed by films at 7 p.m. $10 screening, $20 screening and reception.

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