November 19, 2014, by Guest blog
We Are Many
We Are Many, a documentary about the biggest protest in history, is previewing at Broadway Cinema on 23rd November at 8.30
Director’s Blog – Amir Amirani
How did someone who came to Nottingham as a fresh faced 17 year old, planning to be a scientist, end up making a documentary about the biggest protest in human history?
You might not think of Nottingham as a hotbed of political intrigue, but I became politicized in Nottingham. I had arrived in the UK in 1976 from Iran, a country all too familiar with political intrigue. The revolution in Iran in 1979 would coincide with the election of Margaret Thatcher. So when I came to Nottingham in 1984, to study Biology, I was planning to do research in Neurobiology, and was actually offered a PhD place as soon as I graduated.
Indeed my brother had also been here to study Physics. But he went on to film school, and I went into journalism. A few years later, we would team up to form a TV production company.
But at Nottingham, as in the rest of the UK and indeed the world, we were aware of the growing power and presence of the anti-apartheid movement. And also Thatcherism. The question of Palestine was in the air – how could I avoid politics?
So I established the Nottingham University Film Making Society, which I am glad to see is still going strong all these years later. One sunny winter day, Enoch Powell came to the university, and I filmed the ensuing protest, which the local Central TV station aired. I used to edit videos at the local Nottingham Video Project, where one day I saw an advert for a scriptwriting competition, sponsored by Channel 4 and The Guardian, on the theme of democracy. I wrote a script during my finals, and it won first prize and was made for Channel 4. The judges included David Puttnam, former head of Columbia Studios and Producer of The Killing Fields. Despite all this, I still managed to study and was pleased with my First.
But now I was so intrigued by politics, that I made the decision to go into journalism. Looking back over those years in Nottingham between 1984 and 1987, I can see that I got my first taste of politics, even though neither the city, nor my colleagues nor the university was what you might call a hotbed of activism.
That interest in politics has stayed with me all these years. On leaving Nottingham, I entered journalism, before going to take an M.Phil in International Relations at Cambridge University, where for the second time, I declined a PhD place, to enter the world of TV at in independent production company. From there, it was a short step to the BBC and Production Traineeship, and after two years of the BBC, I teamed up with my brother to form a production company. We have produced documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, PBS, Al Jazeera amongst others on a wide range of topics (http://amiranimedia.com/)
In 2003, many readers might recall a huge demonstration against the impending Iraq War that took place on 15 February 2003. It took place in nearly 800 cities in over 70 countries, and some estimate that nearly 30 million people took part on that one day, making it the largest protest in history. I was on it in Berlin, along with about 500,000 other people. What happened on that day, involving millions of people around the world, changed my life, and would also end up making history.
This was my first ever protest, as it was for most of those millions. A month later, the Iraq War was launched, and we all know the tragedy that followed. Over the next year or so, I kept thinking back to that day, and the scale of it, and wondering how such a day came about it, and what it might mean. It was not just the biggest demonstration in history, but also the first to be coordinated globally, and to be on such a scale before a war had started.
This was my light-bulb moment. I realized that it didn’t matter where anyone was on that day, but that they took part somewhere. And I also realized that something like that does not 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, to each other and to great political events shaping our lives. I didn’t know what it was, or how the day came about, but I was determined to find out.
That day, which inspired the film and forms its central narrative, was a day that politicized many first timers. This was at least in part due to a widely held perception that this was a failure of our democracy. It did not stop the war, and it is arguable if it ever could have, knowing what we know now. But it did have far reaching consequences, unreported till now.
Stories of mass action by citizens are rarely if ever told, and much less seen on our TV screens, compared with the testimony of politicians. From the start, I was intent on telling this story predominantly from the point of view of the activists and the public. A bottom-up approach if you like. For many young people, it was their first taste of politics, and it marked the politicization of their generation.
More and more, social movements and activists around the world are becoming connected. The first decade of this century has been marked by protest, and uprisings that have marked the past few years, dating back to the famous Seattle protests, are not isolated events, but rather mark a new chapter in political organization, in which citizens are increasingly fighting to be heard.
I could not have imagined the journey I would go on, or where the story would take me. Now, 11 years after the event, the film is finished. I shot my first interview in London in April 2006, just over 8 years ago, and eventually filmed in seven countries – UK, USA, Egypt, Australia, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Telling an aspect of one of the most important social and political stories of our generation has been the most exciting, rewarding, and challenging eight years of my life. The film is called We Are Many (website: http://www.wearemany.tv/) and a national release is planned for spring 2015. This is a trailer for the film: https://vimeo.com/86784181.