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The Observer JUNE 22, 2014 - by Vanessa Thorpe
STARS INVOKE THE SPIRIT OF 2003 IRAQ WAR DEMO IN NEW FILM
Brian Eno, Richard Branson, Susan Sarandon and Terry Jones all appear in We Are Many, a documentary on a landmark march
"We didn't finish the job": this is the regretful verdict of Damon Albarn in a new documentary about the wide-scale popular protest against the start of the Iraq war in 2003.
The Blur frontman is one of many famous names in We Are Many, including Brian Eno, Richard Branson, Mark Rylance, Susan Sarandon, Ken Loach, Danny Glover, Terry Jones and Richard O'Brien, to pay tribute to the effort to prevent the conflict and to assess its influence, a decade on. Albarn argues that, if the unprecedented public action in Britain had been sustained, it might have forced politicians to respond.
The documentary, which is being screened at the National Film Theatre in London on Wednesday following an emotional premiere at the Sheffield documentary festival last week, was put together by the Iranian-born British documentary-maker Amir Amirani. Funded by Kickstarter and a series of private donations, including a large one from the inventor of Google Maps, Jens Eilstrup Rasmussen, it is intended as both a record and a celebration of the huge popular movement to halt an imminent military intervention in the Middle East.
The film focuses on the impact the march on February 15 had on public attitudes, but Amirani's project has attracted the attention of a lineup of well-known performers and writers who wanted to mark the importance of the anti-war effort - despite its failure.
Rylance, Britain's leading stage actor, told The Observer he had supported the film by making a trailer because the march changed his life. "I am not unhappy about the effects of that day. It had an amazing impact," he said. "I kept going for a number of years, as many of us did. We have to keep changing our tactics, because people get used to marches."
The actor, currently making the BBC television adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, said he believed protesters needed to find ways to reach people who were not engaged. "When I marched I watched all these people standing on the other side of the barriers and they didn't look like cruel people, but they did not join us," he said.
Rylance says the demonstration was the most democratic he has attended. "I had never walked with families like that before. I am someone who is always looking for victims to support, but a lot of the marchers that day were not like that. They were making a stand for the first time."
Richard O'Brien said: "The march was remarkable, not only for its size and enthusiasm but also for the kindness that those upon it afforded one another. To be told, by Tony Blair, later that evening, that we were all foolishly misguided was chilling. That Iain Duncan Smith and his Tory opposition did nothing to rein in the excesses of Blair and his servile commitment to the Bush administration was also tellingly scary. It was the day that the politicians had finally decided to tell us that democracy was well and truly dead."
Amirani's film also features politicians and campaigners such as Jesse Jackson, the late Tony Benn, the campaigning academic Noam Chomsky, the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and Vietnam war protester Ron Kovic. Branson describes persuading Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to fly into Iraq for peace talks with Saddam Hussein; plans thwarted by the onset of bombing.
Amirani wanted to create a historical account of the international protest, which he joined that day in Berlin. "It was my first ever march and it was only on my return to London that I realised how big it was here. It got me thinking - where else had it happened, how big was it globally, and what could it all signify?"
He decided to start his documentary in 2005 and conducted the first interviews, with Eno and Benn, a year later. After further festival screenings this summer, We Are Many is due to go on general release in Britain this autumn, with the Curzon and Picturehouse cinema chains expressing interest.
The marches held across the globe, regarded now as the biggest political protest in history, took place in around sixty countries that weekend and involved between ten and thirty million demonstrators. In London the rally held in Hyde Park was attended by an estimated three million. In Glasgow around fifty-thousand marched and in Belfast there were more than ten thousand.
Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, set on the day of the march, picked up on the "suspect" mood of frivolity in evidence. "Everyone is thrilled to be together out on the streets; people are hugging themselves, it seems, as well as each other. If they think, and they could be right, that continued torture and summary executions, ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide are preferable to an invasion, they should be sombre in their view," McEwan's central character thinks.
But as The Observer's Euan Ferguson pointed out in his report the next day, a sense of comradely fun was part of the point for many: "This march was not really about politics, it was about humanitarianism."