Imagine learning that your country’s national democratic elections had been rigged. You’d most likely join the inevitable protest marches that would be organized. But imagine having to watch events unfold from afar as your family is in exile. This is the situation in which two brothers, Arash and Arman T. Riahi, found themselves after the 2009 elections in Iran.
The Iranian civilian uprising was the first horizontal rebellion in the Middle East. Lacking a defined leader or clear strategy and facing a full media shutdown, civilians began taking it upon themselves to broadcast the country’s political situation to the world, thereby transforming their mobile phones into their own personal radio and TV stations. Keen to join the protest but unable to travel to Iran, the Riahi brothers conceived a film with a story that would be told through user-generated content (UGC) and reconstruction. But when the Arab Spring began, the brothers realized that the film was no longer just about the political situation in Iran; it had become a global proposition.
Everyday Rebellion is about non-violent forms of protest and civil disobedience. It is also the Riahi brothers’ own personal political protest. From the earliest stages, the core concept included a cross-media plan to be used as a mechanism to connect the different global movements such as Occupy, Femen and the Syrian Nonviolence Movements. “We felt like pioneers,” says Arash, the project’s producer. “We were filmmakers with ideas, but we didn’t know whether they would work. When we were conceiving the film, we wanted to give instructions—protest tips ideas—that related back to the film.”
While the film explores new forms of non-violent protest that are being tested and used throughout the world to overthrow dictatorships and denounce corporations, the online platform serves as an instruction manual on how to implement change, through short films made by the two brothers, contributions from activists, articles and instruction manuals. As they developed the film, the brothers worked on the platform’s concept with German company Plural. The website was planned in part, but it was also given room to grow organically, a factor often overlooked when developing stories that call upon the audience. The brothers sold 20 short clips for €1,000 a piece (some of which appear in the film), and 10 portraits of Arabian activists to ARTE Creative, with the rest of the €60,000 budget for the impressive platform coming from the Austrian New Media Fund. The online platform also helped raise money for the multi-award-winning documentary feature, made for a modest €450,000 and released earlier this year.
PROBLEMS AROUND POLITICS
Raising money for any political project is never straightforward, and working with UGC presents additional problems. The Riahi brothers have had to consider issues specific to this project concerning rights, the safety of contributors and longevity.
As a public service broadcaster, ARTE Creative needed to distance itself from the word “protest,” hence the title Creative Resistance found on its website. The focus also had to change a little for ARTE’s platform, which highlights the creative rather than political aspects of activism. UK newspaper The Guardian, which has made the move into documentary, couldn’t board the project considering the political subject matter to be potentially incendiary.
While developing the platform, it also became apparent there would be rights issues given the use of UGC and very real dangers to contributors supplying footage to the platform. These two factors alone have resulted in a lot of additional man hours—there are over 1,400 hours of contributed material that need to be checked for rights and curated. In tandem, every upload uses SSL encryption to protect the anonymity of contributors to the greatest extent possible.
BUT THE BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE OBSTACLES
“We’re constantly talking with our audience through the platform,” explains Arash. “We can see the respect people have and how much the project has helped people.” Recently, Syrian activists asked permission to translate the clips of Serbian activist Srdja Popovic into Arabic. The translated videos are now being used by underground activists there. They are also being shared in places like Kiev as well as from Turkey to Eritrea.
Everyday Rebellion is an anomaly: whereas most stories have an ending, this one currently doesn’t. Consequently, the platform needs ongoing funding. “People think the platform is complete,” explains Arash. “But we still need to raise money to create and curate new content.” Some of the creative ways of raising the €3,000 per month needed to keep the platform running include the development of an app with Berlin-based Honig Studios and funding from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. Extending elements of the film, the app will enable users to combine slogans with graffiti that can be added “virtually“ onto any building. From the White House to Buckingham Palace, the app will create a permanent gallery of virtual pictures unlike actual graffiti. Crowdfunding is also being considered and donations can be made directly through the website.