If you happen to find yourself making a documentary on political upheaval, the complexities of war, and civilian protest, the easiest way of getting your film finished is by making it as long, overstuffed, and boring as possible. There’s no way an issue as complicated as the run-up, and fallout, of the 2003 Iraq War is going to be delivered to our screens with a nice little bow, at once succinct and engaging. But then again, you’re not Amir Amirani; his debut documentary feature We Are Many manages to be at once endlessly informative, universal, and most important of all, enraging.
It was hard to miss what was happening on February 15th, 2003. The greatest demonstration in the history of our planet, comprising of up to 11 million people, took over 600 cities through 60 countries, was put together to protest the US and the UK’s impending vote to decide whether or not to go to war with Iraq. Much of the world opposed such a notion, and the demonstration was the largest ever assembled; as you know, history did not go the way the general public wanted. 12 years after that tremendous groundswell of humanity, We Are Many attempts the near-heroic struggle to get it all on film, and to see what really happened in the run-up to what many, many people believe was one of the most pointless and ethically unjust wars ever waged.
Using countdown-type timeframes, gentle narrative nudging, and a wide range of interviewees that not only include activists and politicians, but musicians, actors, and even astronomers who played a part in February 15th, Amirani shows a deft understanding of not only the events surrounding that fateful day, but the years before and after it. Context is his WMD: by dispelling myths about the social media beginnings of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, clarifying the secretive links between the desks of Blair and Bush, and other feats of fearless insight, We Are Many threatens to become tangential, unfocused and overflowing, but that doesn’t happen once; using that special day in February as an emotional compass, we’re always led North. That human angle, as the title of We Are Many suggests, is what sets this far above your typical dreary political video essay; but of course, its relentless, articulate incensing of the soul comes with potential downsides. Alternative opinion is thin on the ground here, but that’s largely in thanks to most opposing voices declining to be interviewed for the movie.
But that perspective is still addressed, giving this excellent documentary a counterweight to make sure its fury is held in check. Through astonishingly detailed research, a well-defined (but nonetheless ethically muddy) narrative, and a bright optimism in the wake of governments that seem to be learning from past sins, we realise the concluding half of the film’s title; we are many, and we are also strong.