In 2003, on a cold February day, right after attending the Berlin Film Festival, I did something that would change my life, though I didn’t know it at the time. I found myself on the streets of Berlin along with about 500,000 other people.
What happened on that day, involving millions of people around the world, would also end up making history. It was the 15th of February, 2003.
I was on my first ever protest, and it was against the Iraq War. I’d never been among that many people. For many of them, it was also their first protest. When I returned to London, friends told me of the amazing day in London that I’d missed. Reports ranged from 1.5 to 2 million. I was upset that I had missed the biggest day in the history of the city I’d grown up in.
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 what that feeling was telling me. As I began research, I realized that the protest had happened all over the world. The Guardian later said that up to 30 million people might have marched in nearly 800 cities around the world.
It seemed the 15th of February, 2003, was the biggest demonstration in history, the first to be co-ordinated 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, such as the 70 people who demonstrated in Antarctica! 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 that 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 on which many ordinary citizens, who were not political or activists, came out for the first time to protest against a war, effectively becoming politicized by the experience.
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. 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 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 carried out 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 8 years of my life.