The hippie movement that captivated hundreds of thousands of young people in the West had a profound impact on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Within the Soviet system, a colorful crowd of artists, musicians, freaks, vagabonds and other long-haired drop-outs created their own system, which connected those who believed in peace, love, and freedom for their bodies and souls.
More than 40 years later, a group of eccentric hippies from Estonia take a road trip to Moscow where the hippies still gather annually on the 1st of June for celebration that is related to the tragic event in 1971, when thousands of Soviet hippies were arrested by the KGB. The journey through time and dimensions goes deep into the psychedelic underground world in which these people strived for freedom.
Recent rise of authoritarianism, setbacks in the struggles for social justice and the occurrence of wars – including the one in Ukraine – demands continuous discussion on the idea of non-violence. The Soviet Hippies sheds light on the history of the pacifist movement in Russia and Eastern Europe, and proposes an alternative trajectory in global cultural memory, demonstrating the vast creative potential that emerged within the totalitarian regime.
The film raises important points about the workings of power and the politics of ecstasy, ultimately tackling the questions of freedom and self-fulfillment. Soviet hippies struggled for their sense of freedom in many ways, but after the turn of the politicisation of the movement in 1970-1971, their active engagement with politics either ended up severely or didn’t change anything for better. They rather wanted to get as far as possible from everything they considered as political, so that the society wouldn’t disturb them and they in turn wouldn’t disturb the society. In the socio-political landscape of contemporary Russia, these sentiments reoccur in frightening clarity.
The story of the main protagonist, Aare, suggests that being trapped by a body which is ill leaves little choice but to focus on the vast potential of internal dreamscapes. But how to deal with the feeling of being trapped by a society which is ill?
Director and script-writer
Through the 1970s, a subcultural network often referred to as sistema (translates from Russian as the system) expanded across the urban Soviet Union, connecting likeminded people with awayfaring lifestyle. Between one other, information about gathering places and music festivals was shared, as well as the addresses and phone numbers of other people who associated themselves with sistema. The emerging social network made it possible to travel to another city and immediately find social support and a place to stay. As the hippies often say: “They had their system, we had our own system.”
Music was the foundation and source of divergence among the Soviet youth. Like their contemporaries on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the locals also listened to iconic albums of the hippie era, but these were cautiously acquired on the black market, copied onto reel-to-reel tapes, and exchanged endlessly within the networks of friends. Compared to most other places in the USSR, Estonia had an exceptionally vivid rock music scene, marked by the legacy of groups such as Keldriline Heli (Väntorel), Suuk, Ornament, Mess, Psycho, Ruja, Radar, Meie, Kooma, Haak, etc. Several of these groups made their way to the film’s soundtrack (see also below!).
Emphasizing the importance of sensorial pleasure, kaif (ecstasy, pleasure, high) became one of the central notions that shaped the practices and lifestyles of the hippies. There was a widespread desire among the hippies to experience something more than the bleak promise given by the Soviet power regime. Experimenting with various states of consciousness catered to the sense of imaginary elsewhere. This elsewhere within became an escape from the Soviet daily reality, giving some sense of freedom.
SELECTED MEDIA COVERAGE
Interview with director Terje Toomistu at Jacobin Magazine.
Film review at Modern Times Review.
Film review at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Interview with director Terje Toomistu at Psychedelic Baby Magazine.
Interview with director Terje Toomistu at Deep Baltic.
Film review at Rumba (Finnish).
Film review at Classic Rock (German).
Film review at Taxi Drivers (Italian).
Interview with director Terje Toomistu at Documentary Culture POV Magazine.
We are wild. We are witty. We celebrate grotesque. We celebrate beauty. We hold on to cross-cultural and cross-generational communication. We love flowers, rock’n’roll and dreaming.
In the film about the Soviet hippies, we choose to break the rules and cross the barriers, rather than get stuck in any reserved and conventional way of story-telling. We believe that our relationship to the reality has to be always questioned, challenged and re-evaluated, while the values of peace and love are beyond questioning. We believe in film as a medium that leads to a variety of landscapes and states of consciousness, giving you a simultaneous joy of participation and the excitement of being on an unforeseen journey. We take you on a ride through time and space across the juxtaposed landscape of the Soviet and the endless corridors of creative minds.
If you’re a wanderer, a dreamer, a creative soul who rather opens the doors than closes them, who seeks for the unknown rather than sticks to the good old, if you question the political history that you’ve been told about and you wonder why The Beatles is still such a hit in your head and why Putin does what he does, if you believe in peace as the ultimate way of policy making and social love as the basis of everything, and you cry – why there’s still so much war and violence out there? Then you’re most certainly one of us.
Come and join our journey to fight against violence through peaceful means, celebrate creativity, hold on to our dreams and stand out for freedom of our bodies and souls, weather in thought or action, film or music, dreams or memories. Let’s rock and roll it.
UNERHÖRT! Music Film Festival, Hamburg, Germany 2018. The Main Jury Award.
Estonian Film Academy Award EFTA 2018. The Best Film Editor, Martin Männik.
Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2018. Nomination for the Best Documentary Award.
Trieste Film Festival 2018, Trieste, Italy. The Winner of Art&Sound Competition. The Sky Award by Sky Arte HD.
Estdocs Film Festival 2017, Toronto, Canada. The Main Jury Prize.
DocLeipzig 2017. Nomination for the MDR Award.
Sõprus,1.06.2017 , with manifest for the Summer of Love, invitation only – World Premiere
Helsinki IFF Love & Anarchy, 2017, Finland – Finnish Premiere
Mostra de Sao Paulo IFF, 2017, Sao Paolo, Brazil – International Premiere
Dok Leipzig, 2017 – European Premiere, Nomination for the MDR Award.
EstDocs Film Festival, 2017, Toronto, Canada – Winner of The Main Jury Prize.
Estonian Film Days Brussels (BOZAR), 2017, Belgium
Antarctis Film Festival, 2017, Finnish station Aboa, Antarctica
Trieste Film Festival, 2018, Trieste, Italy – The Winner of Art&Sound Competition.
Göteborg Film Festival, 2018, Sweden
Santa Barbara IFF, U.S. – Nomination for the Best Documentary Award.
CPH:Dox, 2018, Denmark, Section: HITS
Nordic Lights Film Festival, 2018, Belarus
CineDoc Tbilisi IDFF, 2018, Georgia
Beldocs, 2018, Serbia
Transilvania Film Festival, 2018, Romania
Krakow Film Festival, 2018, Poland
Baltic Film Days, 2018, Latvia and Lithuania
Delai Film, 2018, Moscow, Russia
Rudolstadt, 2018, Germany
Wende Museum, L.A., 2018, U.S.
Burning Man, 2018, U.S.
Roxie Cinema, 2018, San Francisco, U.S.
DOCK! International Documentary Film Festival Burgas, 2018 Burgas, Bulgaria
dieN.a.T.o Leipzig, 2018, Germany
Reykjavík International Film Festival, 2018, Reykjavik, Iceland
Baltic Film Festival, 2018, Boston, U.S.
Scandinavian House, 2018, New York City, U.S.
Osteuropäische Filmtage Dresden, 2018, Dresden, Germany
UNERHÖRT! Music Film Festival, Hamburg, Germany 2018. The Main Jury Award.
Baltic Film Festival in St Petersburg, 2019, St Petersburg, Russia.
Guild Cinema, 2019, Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.
HOME, 2019, Mancherster, U.K.
UPCOMING Dash Café, Rich Mix, 2019, London, U.K.
DVD (subtitles EST, ENG, RUS; all regions)
SOUNDTRACK ON VINYL
Since the film received enourmous recognition for its selection of music, which all comes from the Soviet underground, we pressed the film soundtrack on vinyl. The beautiful PINK vinyl is illustrated with archival photos and comes with a digital copy.
Unfortunately we are already out of stock, but there are some vinyls still available at the Shiny Beast online store based in Netherlands and in Estonian online record store Biit.me. Also you may listen or purchase a digital version of the album via our Bandcamp page.
Already got your vinyl and wanna grab your digital copy? Please insert your code here to get the digital version of the stunning album:
Soviet Hippies is also a multi-media traveling exhibition curated by Terje Toomistu and Kiwa. The exhibition combines oral history method with the study of pop culture, featuring carefully selected photographs and rare items from the Soviet hippie subculture, video interviews with the participants of the movement, music videos, and related art.
Previously exhibited in the Estonian National Museum in 2013, in Moderna Museet in Malmö, Sweden in 2014, in Uppsala Konstmuseum in Sweden in 2014, in Presentation House Gallery in Vancouver, Canada in 2014, in Red Gallery in London, U.K. in 2016, and in GalerieKUB in Leipzig, Germany in 2018.
We are open for proposals for future exhibitions.
For enquiries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Soviet Hippies exhibition in Leipzig, Germany, 2018.