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The Guardian MAY 13, 2015 - by Amir Amirani
WE ARE MANY: HOW AMIR AMIRANI GOT GLOBAL ANTI-WAR PROTEST TO THE BIG SCREEN
Amir Amirani had an idea - to produce a documentary about the global anti-war protests against the Iraq war. The problem was he had no backers. Ahead of an exclusive Guardian screening, he tells us how he got his idea into the cinemas.
Many readers of this paper will remember, or will have taken part in, the demonstration against the Iraq war on February 15, 2003 - the biggest anti-war protest in the history of the UK. These protesters were joined by around thirty million people in about eight hundred cities, on every continent, in the largest protest in history.
I hope those who come to watch my film We Are Many will see that day in a new light, a day that many, both then and now, regarded as a heroic failure. The film reveals the hitherto unreported and unexpected legacies of that protest and the war, which are only now unfolding. Legacies that I could not have imagined when I began work on We Are Many in April 2006 - nine, very long years ago.
Back in 2003, on a cold February day, after attending the Berlin Film Festival, I did something that would later change my life. I found myself on the streets of Berlin along with about five hundred thousand other people. It was my first demonstration. I had never been among so many people. This was true for many of us that day.
When I returned to London, friends told me about the amazing day in the capital with reports suggesting there were between one-and-a-half to two million protesters on the streets. I was upset that I had missed the biggest day in the history of the city I'd grown up in.
A month later, US-led forces invaded Iraq, and we all know how the tragedy unfurled. Over the next year or so I kept thinking back to that day; it seemed that February 15, 2003 was the biggest demonstration in history and the first to be co-ordinated globally.
This was my light-bulb moment. I realised that it didn't matter where anyone was on that day, just that they took part. Even in Antarctica, seventy scientists and other workers demonstrated on the ice, forming a peace sign.
Something like that doesn't just happen out of the blue. I knew there was a story there to be told, and that in some way it heralded something - a new phenomenon that went to the heart of the public's relationship to politics, and to each other. I didn't know exactly what that was, but I was determined to find out.
It took me between 2006 and 2010 to research and develop the concept. Then, in 2011, I set myself the task of finishing the film in time for the tenth anniversary of the march. I did a Kickstarter campaign - the first film in the UK, I believe, to get production seed funding on the platform. We were supported by the co-inventor of Google Maps and Richard O'Brien, creator of The Rocky Horror Show.
Stephen Fry wrote about the campaign on Twitter, which was read by actor and comedian Omid Djalili who decided to come on board. We started full-scale production in 2012 and, with Omid's support, other investors began to come forward. However, all this happened slowly over four years. We applied to all and sundry for institutional funding and were refused at every turn.
I had a great team of executive producers, including Pippa Harris, who co-founded Neal Street Productions with Sam Mendes, Signe Byrge Sørensen, who produced the Oscar-nominated The Act Of Killing, and Callum McDougall, executive producer of Skyfall. Our key investor was the songwriter Wael Kabbani. I teamed up with cameramen I had worked with for over twenty years, and filmed in seven countries. Brian Eno had even written the score.
Few people would set off on a journey if they knew that it would take nine long years. But when it's your first feature, that's probably par for the course for an independent film. In fact, I'm glad that I didn't know, because I might not have kept going. I had no money and had to remortgage my home three times to pay my living costs. The whole process was hand-to-mouth - raising money, the money running out, raising more and then starting all over again. It would have been easy to give up on so many occasions, but I believed in the story too much.
And with every interview we did - and we conducted over a hundred - the stronger we became. Activists and protestors sat side by side with big names, including Tony Benn, Brian Eno, Danny Glover, Richard Branson, Jesse Jackson, Ken Loach, Damon Albarn, Hans Blix, Noam Chomsky, Mark Rylance, Ron Kovic, Tariq Ali, Lord Falconer and Clare Short.
We found them over the nine years, each through a different set of circumstances, contacts and old-fashioned digging. Many had simply never been asked their opinion about the demonstration. For the majority of journalists, events that involve the public, or protest, represent blips in time and not as part of any continuum or something worthy of study. They're wrong. I think it was US anthropologist Margaret Mead who said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
We Are Many premiered at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival on June 8, 2014, and at its first screening received a four-minute standing ovation. We are now self-distributing the film in more than ninety cinemas in forty-five cities around the UK, and are looking to release globally.
The greatest stories are there right in front of us, if we only just look. And often the best projects and films come when you work over a long period. Although I doubt that I'll do another nine-year project. It's about making a choice between an easy and a hard life - and if you choose a politically sensitive subject, you will make your life even harder, but a lot more interesting.