Directed by: Amir Amirani
The Iraq war has already proven fertile ground for many a filmmaker infuriated by military carnage and the dubious arguments presented by Bush and Blair. Entering a crowded room We Are Many chooses a different tack, focussing on the global movement that brought millions to the streets on February 15th 2003 to protest against the war. An initially well-constructed effort that can’t be faulted for its passion, Amir Amirani’s documentary fails to square the circle between the scale of the protest and its achievements.
It starts with the events of 9/11 and the very obvious beating of the war drums that began before the dust had settled on Al-Qaeda’s atrocity. The majority of the running time is used to follow the road to war and the subsequent construction of a movement that brought record numbers of people onto the streets across the world.
Amirani makes good use of archive footage splicing it together seamlessly with a series of anecdotes from impressive talking heads. The stand-out moment comes when war itself begins. The passion and the devastation on the faces of those interviewed deliver a strong sense as to what stopping the Iraq War meant to so many. There is also a chillingly edited scene in which footage of President Bush giving a callously humorous toast to the annual correspondents dinner about his inability to find weapons of mass destruction is contrasted with pictures of the devastation the western military coalition wrought on Iraq.
Through the use of glossy graphics and fluid editing, it’s clear that Amirani’s film is not some amateur effort thrown together at the last minute. The contributors alone attest to this. There are protestors, international officials including Hans Blix and Lord Falconer and a selection of celebrities who admittedly bring varying degrees of insight to the situation.
For all the production value though, We Are Many is a frustratingly blinkered slog. The majority of the film is given over to the creation of the movement that brought millions to the streets. While the contributors may acknowledge their frustrations that the war went ahead regardless, they talk in ridiculously self-aggrandising terms about their ‘miraculous’ achievements. The praise solemnly lavished on their success in creating the biggest global protest the world has ever seen feels out of proportion given their failure to prevent the war. There’s even a farcical decision at the end to include statistics on the cost the invasion incurred in blood and treasure – a stark reminder that the protestors failed in their central aim and one that feels odd given all the congratulatory backslapping witnessed earlier.
This failure is not open to much assessment before the film moves on to conjure up a dubious legacy. Damon Albarn provides the most telling musing on the impact they might have had if they’d have carried on the protests after the first weekend. That and some puffed chests at the New York Times article referring to two superpowers; the USA and world public opinion, offer the standout analysis. Naturally, there is plenty of talk about how democratically elected Governments’ surely can’t ignore so many people. And yet the fact that the democratically elected Bush and Blair administrations were democratically re-elected after the invasion had occurred is not given the airtime such an interesting conundrum deserves.
It’s disappointing that Amirani does not delve deeply enough into the movement’s failure to sway public opinion to a position where Iraq became the kind of salient issue that could decide the democratic future of the two prime protagonists. Equally, it’s a shame that no interesting insight is shed on the fascinating line between the responsibilities of elected politicians to act on the will of the people, and the need to push back against the tyranny of the mob. Is a government wrong to go against the wishes of 1.5 million people gathered on the streets of London or is it wrong to expect that a protest that actively involved a small percentage of the population should succeed simply because they shout loudly enough?
Ultimately, this question is sidelined, glossed over to focus on some fairly large and worryingly unsubstantiated claims that seek a positive end note. With the credits fast approaching, Amirani uses the final moments to focus on the legacy of the protest movement that sprung up in 2003. Grandiose claims are made that the Egyptian revolution and the votes against military intervention in Syria were influenced by the Iraq war protest. While it’s possible that there is some truth in this, these sweeping assertions are subject to very little analysis. They’re little more than a stirring coda inserted to justify the self-congratulatory tone taken throughout despite the evident failure of the protests to do the one and only thing they were originally created for.
For all its smooth construction, We Are Many is just as guilty of painting in primary colours as Blair’s dodgy dossier and Bush’s laughable mission accomplished stunt. Amirani’s film demonstrates a lack of self-awareness by trying to canonise a protest movement on the grounds of scale rather than impact. For all the people they encouraged onto the streets, the invasion still went ahead. You might have thought this would subdue the torrent of praise the protestors lavish on themselves but Amirani’s protesting puff piece suggests otherwise.
Find out more about We Are Many: