Estonian Cultural Evening at Stanford University

October 25, 2013

Although a small country, Estonia has rich culture and history, both of which will be celebrated through film at Stanford on Nov. 19. The free, evening event aims to bring together Stanford faculty, staff, and students, local Estonians as well as other people interested in Estonian heritage.


6-7 p.m.: “The Woman Who Gave Estonia a Gift of a Museum: Olga Kistler-Ritso,” Q&A

Venue: Cubberley Auditorium, Graduate School of Education (485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford)

7-7:30 p.m.: Tour of Green Library and its Estonian collection

Venue: Green Library (meet in the Graduate School of Education lobby)

7:30-8 p.m.: Snack/coffee break

Venue: Graduate School of Education lobby

8-9:30 p.m.: “To Breathe as One,” Q&A

Venue: Cubberley Auditorium, Graduate School of Education

“The Woman Who Gave Estonia a Gift of a Museum: Olga Kistler-Ritso” (2013) is a short film collaboratively made by Stanford University Libraries, Stanford Video, and the Museum of Occupations in Estonia. The film highlights the extraordinary life of Dr. Olga Kistler-Ritso, an Estonian émigré who was born in Kiev but spent her first years in Civil War-time Moscow, where her mother died and her father was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Olga grew up in a foster family in interwar Estonia and fled to USA during WWII, just as Estonia was reoccupied and annexed by the Soviet Union. The film, based on interviews conducted with her family members, serves as a case study of one person out of tens of thousands who had to flee the Baltic States during WWII. The film splendidly shows Olga’s everlasting love towards her home country Estonia, which she was not able to visit again until 1976. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, Olga sought ways to help the country’s development, resulting in her founding the Kistler-Ritso Foundation in 1998. Her non-profit supported construction of the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn in 2003 as well as the creation of the Estonian and Baltic program at Stanford University Libraries in 2013. Olga currently lives in Redmond, Washington. Her daughter, Sylvia Thompson, serves as the president of the foundation.

“To Breathe as One” (2013) is a documentary film about the extraordinary Estonian song festival called Laulupidu. Every five years, 30,000 people gather on the same stage in the small country of Estonia to join voices and sing in the National Song Festival for two days, becoming the largest choir in the world. More than a music festival, it’s a miracle that at least twice in history gave freedom to that country. “To Breathe As One” explores the beauty and meaning of the choral festival through the eyes of the young members of the California-based Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, one of the few American choirs invited to participate. Learning difficult songs — all in Estonian — the youngsters prepare for months and then set off to join the many thousands from around the world who gather every five years in Tallinn. Forming cross-cultural friendships that span the oceans, there they discover the unique role that music has played for Estonians for over 150 years, as an integral force in maintaining strength and identity for a people who have faced cultural genocide — more than once. From the filmmakers of the acclaimed “The Singing Revolution”, the film reveals that for Estonians singing is not just a means of cultural expression, but a defining part of their national identity.

You may find more about the film “To Breathe as One” and its trailer at

Both screenings will be followed by a question and answer sessions with the filmmakers, choir members, and others involved in the films.

Participants will be invited to tour Stanford University Libraries and its Estonian and Baltic collections between the two screenings.

Special guests will include Kadri Viires, director of the Museum of Occupations; Steven Schecter, director of film about Olga Kistler-Ritso, Sylvia Thompson, daughter of Olga Kistler-Ritso and president of the foundation; James and Maureen Tusty, directors of “To Breathe as One;” and representatives of Piedmont Children’s Choir, which participated in the Estonian Song Festival in 2009.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about Estonian culture, meet with the filmmakers, and learn about the Museum of Occupations and the Estonian and Baltic program at Stanford University Libraries. The event is in English and is free and open to the public.

Participants are requested to register by Nov. 11 via Eventbrite or 650-736-4724.

For additional information, please contact Liisi Eglit,