Everyday Rebellion: Inspiring Non-Violent Dissent
By Antonia Roupell
The Frontline Club began its June documentary programme on Monday 1 with a retrospective look at various forms of non-violent protests in the cross-media documentary, Everyday Rebellion. The film was directed by the Riahi brothers and Arman Riahi was present for a lively Q&A after the screening.
To summarise, Everyday Rebellion is a tribute to civil disobedience in its various forms, from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street. It is a record of some of the creative ways in which individuals have challenged oppressive norms, be it the authoritarian regime in Syria or mass unemployment and austerity policies in Spain. As the subjects of the film challenge the status quo, so too is the documentary film’s aesthetic style non-conformist. The Riahi brothers filmed over two years, and collected more than 14,000 hours of material from over seven countries. The result is a juxtaposition of talking head interviews, observational narratives and amateur mobile phone footage.
Riahi explained that the film was partly inspired by the brothers’ Iranian identity and their parents’ direct experience of curtailed freedoms. The film features a number of Iranian citizens who enact small, habitual acts of resistance. A woman paints her toenails red, for example.
Riahi said: “On the outside everyone is living how the regime wants and behind the curtain people are living western lives.”
He continued: “We began with Iran and quickly history happened; very soon the Arab Spring came… To be honest it was too fast for us. It was a time where every week something was happening.”
Apart from celebrating non-violent resistance, Riahi readily admitted that the film was intended to actively inspire protest in, crucially, “non-violent ways.”
Riahi spoke about the ways in which the film had been used since its release. “At some point we got a message from the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong – they asked to screen the film on the main square of the Umbrella Movement, where it was shown at least six times.”
Apart from sharing tactics for voicing dissent, the film highlights the importance of camaraderie among civilian protesters. By focusing on the similarities between various protest movements, the film instills a sense of transnational, cross-cultural power in the protester.
“The project is about inspiration and empowerment; we wanted to give people the feeling that there are people like them,” explained Riahi.
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A number of audience members questioned whether non-violent tactics are effective in defeating groups such as ISIS, or in challenging complex capitalist systems.
Riahi’s response brought into light the disparity between tactics and results: “Solutions don’t come overnight.”
Evidently the result of overthrowing a leader, as was the case in Egypt, is often the disheartening discovery that their system is deeply entrenched. As Riahi said: “If you change a system, only then do you see that beneath the system there is another system.”
The film nevertheless offered one tangible example of how non-violent resistance can lead to change: a court hearing in the 1980s, in which victims spoke out against atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic against their family members.
Accountability was a key theme pushed by many of the film’s protagonists: including Serbian political activist Srdja Popovic; Femen activist Inna Shevchenko; Yes Men activist Jacques Servin; and Reverend Billy. This lead to an audience observation that those able to occupy public spaces are often from a middle class background, and can therefore afford to act on their beliefs. Riahi agreed that this was often the case initially.
The role of the Internet in helping spread protest to civil society was an important point in the discussion. While not undermining its centrality, Riahi said of social media tools: “It’s not a substitution for going to the streets and being there when things need to be done.”
Riahi also criticised the failure of mainstream media to cover non-violent protest, mainly, he reasoned, because “it does not sell as much as the guns and blood.”
Riahi concluded: “We knew this project was more than a film, because we knew of the restrictions in film and cinema.”
The cross-media platform continues to tell stories and showcase non-violent protest across the globe; visit the Everyday Rebellion website to find out more.