Inna Shevchenko

The Art of Change – THE RIAHI BROTHERS invite us to EVERYDAY REBELLION

Everyday Rebellion poster

EVERYDAY REBELLION, a documentary and cross-media project on non-violence protest methods and modern forms of civil disobedience, could have been easily called “Creative Rebellion”. Not only are the ideas and strategies for “civil unrest” very different and much more imaginative than what you’d expect, as well as being backed up by hard science, but the style of the documentary is so surprisingly cinematic, I often had the impression I was watching a fiction film. Which made it all the more powerful and moving for it.

The Iranian-born Austrian filmmakers ARASH & ARMAN RIAHI started this ambitious project in 2009 and travelled the world over to document various forms of social protest and find out what, if anything, they had in common. The film imaginatively takes us to Madrid  where we spend time with the Indignados;  with the Green revolutionaries in Tehran; with members of FEMEN in Kiev, Paris and Stockholm; with Occupy Wall Street in New York; and with Syrian activists devoted to nonviolent resistance against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The result: a very sensitive, intimate and astute documentary painting so many memorable portraits of the often anonymous “protagonists” involved in the myriad forms of everyday rebellions taking place everywhere in the world.

This interview with ARMAN RIAHI was taken on November 10, 2013, at the Danish Cinemateket, Copenhagen, a few days ahead of the film’s world premiere at CPH:DOX where it also won the Audience Award.

(This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length)

Dana: When and where did Everyday Rebellion start?

Arman:It started in 2009, after the presidential and political elections in Iran, when the Green movement took place. We were watching the videos of protesters who recorded human rights violations. As a refugee family living in Austria in exile, we were very touched by this and we suggested to make a film about this uprising. So when we started developing the project it was only about Iran. Then history happened: there was  the Arab spring and then 15-M,  the Spanish Indignados movement, then Occupy Wall Street, so we constantly changed the focus and we constantly developed and found new things that are interesting and important. And at some point we realised the focus should be on non-violence protests because this is a very useful tool and a very important, true and wise idea about how to confront dictatorships and oppressive powers, economic systems which oppress you and so on. It’s really about non-violent rebellion and what it can do for ordinary citizens…

Dana: Was it you who went to Iran to film and develop this project?

Arman:  No, in Iran somebody filmed secretly for us. In Iran part of the story is some kind of video diary of an Iranian girl, she can be everybody, she stays anonymous and she’s telling her side of the situation in Iran now.

Dana: So where did you first set up shop and started filming?

Arman:We started with Srdja Popovic, one of the founders of the Serbian resistance movement that overthrew Milošević in the 90s .He is now a non-violent consultant and he is a great guy, a great strategist. He has been invited by non-violence movements to help them develop their ideas, because you cannot really export a movement, each non-violent movement has to be really authentic from the country itself. So we started with him and he was the tip of the iceberg, then we started talking to other activists and veterans, which is how the project spread. Then we came here, to Copenhagen, to take part in a non-violent activist conference.

Dana: Was this in 2011?

Arman:Yes, 2 years ago. Then we went to film in Egypt with the activists we got to meet here at the conference in Copenhagen, then we went to film in Madrid, we went there three times with the 15-M movement.

.-Photo-2013-Everyday-Rebellion

The Riahi Brothers, Arash T.Riahi and Arman T.Riahi

Dana: Did you go to Ukraine as well, you mentioned Femen.

Arman: Yes, Femen is a big part of the film.

Dana: Have you met Kitty Green, have you seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel?

Arman:Yes I saw the film, it’s not really my type of thing to be honest…

Dana: Why?

Arman:For me it’s a little bit too speculative, it’s very much focused on one point, the film is very much only focusing on this guy in the background who has something to do with the organisation but he’s not the only founder, there is another founder of Femen and nobody talks about her. And because the story about this guy was the most sensational factor, what I find is that Kitty Green, whom I respect for her work, only focused on this, but there are a lot of other things that you can talk about when you talk about Femen, for example the background of these girls and the situation in Ukraine. But this is talked about for five minutes at the beginning of the film and then it’s over.

Dana: I think she chose to focus more on the contradictions within this organisation and tried to bring those to light…

Arman:Yes, which is also interesting, but that was not the only thing. We have spent a lot of time with Inna Shevchenko…

Dana: At the same time that Kitty Green was making her film there?

Arman:No, actually our film starts where Kitty Green’s film stops. The film starts when Inna Shevchenko leaves Ukraine to go to Paris and starts Femen International in Paris. And she won’t go back now because the Secret Services are after her, so our film really starts when she leaves Ukraine and builds up Femen International in France. Now there are a lot of Femen franchises set up all over the world.

Everyday rebellion still London

Anonymous “MillionMaskMarch” in London and around the world

Dana: So what did you focus on in this part of the film?And how many parts are there to the film? It sounds like a huge project.How long is the film?

Arman:Yes it’s a huge project. The film is 110 minutes. We have Femen, the 15-M movement in Madrid, Occupy Wall Street, Egypt a little bit, Copenhagen a little bit, Iran, the Syrian non-violent movement. It’s more than 7-8 countries, it’s Ukraine, France, Aman, the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, then there’s New York, Madrid, Copenhagen, it’s a really big project.

Dana: And how do the different parts connect and resonate with each other?I suppose the common theme is the non-violent type of protests.

Arman:Yes. On paper you would think: what do all these movements have to do with each other?What has Occupy have to do with the Syrian non-violent movement?or the famous fight for women’s rights or against the church?

Dana: Well, they are all protests against something…

Arman:Yes and they have a lot to do with each other because they are all about what ordinary citizens can do against injustice. Some of the activists don’t even fight for their own rights, they come from good backgrounds, they could do a good job and live happily. But what motivates them is the injustice that’s going on in the world. They want to change something and it is not a hippy dream that you can change a lot with non-violent protests, it’s scientifically proven and this is one of the points of the film, this is why we came to the conference in Copenhagen, it is scientifically proven that non-violent resistance is much more effective.

Dana: Is this the conclusion of the film?

Arman:Yes, and the film has other conclusions. You learn a lot I think.

Question What You Know still

At Foley Square, Lower Manhattan, NYC

Dana: Was your life ever in danger when you were filming all these protests?I’m thinking more of Syria, Egypt. Or do you have any insider tales, anecdotes you could share?

Arman:There were some moments which were a little bit close calls. Funnily, the most close call was actually in New York, the police there was really brutal and at some point, you can see it in the movie a little bit, on the day of action, it was the 17th of September 2012, which was the 1st year anniversary of the movement. The Occupy movement took over the financial district of NYC with its non-violent protests, like sit-ins in bank lobbies, walks on the intersection, on the intercity highway in NYC. So the police was at some point driving with the motorcycles, driving towards us and trying to kick us, to run us over, to get us off the street. Or in Aman, at some point one of the Syrian protesters tried to do a protest method which I don’t want to tell you about and spoil your surprise because it is very creative. People say about Jordan that 3/4 of the Jordanian population works for the Secret Service!Which is a funny thing because right before he wanted to do the action, we were there with 2 or 3 cameras and our location manager said “maybe this is not so good to do this now”, and I said “why?this is the last day and we have to do it, it’s great”, “oh yeah, because you know in Jordan half of the population or more works for the Secret Service” and I said “Okay, thanks for telling us only now!” But compared to the life of the “protagonists”, our lives were never really in danger. Now when the film comes out, I’m sure some governments won’t like it very much, Iran will not like it very much but it’s okay, that’s why we do it. The important thing is the political statement, civil disobedience is very important for each nation.

Dana: How was this project funded?

Arman:The film is produced by Golden Girls, which is an Austrian-Viennese production company where my brother is one of the 2 or 3 partners. The film was financed in a very classical way, by the Austrian Film Funding body, by the state. But the films also has German TV funds, […] actually the funding is not very unconventional.

Dana: And this is not your first film, is it?

Arman:No, I made my first film two years ago, it was called Dark Head, about young teenagers in Austria, young adults, rappers, who have an immigrant background and are using hip-hop as their tool to act and to have something to do and get off the street. So this film was premiered at Sarajevo as Opening Film two years ago. But this one is our first film together, that we directed together. My brother has made three documentaries already and a feature film also.

Dana: So documentary is your thing, you want to continue making documentaries.

Arman:Actually I’m writing two or three fiction films now. So next year I want to start the production for my first fiction film.

Dana: Is it about social issues?

Arman:Yes.

Dana: We have a theme here, a common thread here running through all your films.

Arman:Some people tell me that as a young director, I’m 32,  people tell me “choose a style, you have to have a style”. Because Austria is very much a film country, we have Michel Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, the legends, so they say “Ulrich Seidl has this style, his films are like this”.

Dana: They became almost like a “genre”.

Arman:Yes. And it’s great, I respect them very much, I think they are amazing filmmakers but…

Dana: You don’t want to be limited to just one style…

Arman:[…] When you see the film, you’ll see that it has a style, it’s well-crafted and we are filmmakers, we’re not activists. But with this film we became activists somehow […].

Dana: Did you go to film school by the way?

Arman:No, I never went to film school, I refused to apply, I knew I wanted to make films but I didn’t want anybody to tell me how to do it or if I can do it. But apply? Every year they accept only 5 to 10 people in the Austrian University for Film, where Haneke is a teacher for example, in the directing class. And I was very interested in design and art direction and graphic design. So I went to the University for Applied Sciences and in my internship I did graphic design in London, I lived in London for a year and did my internship there. Which is something that helps me design the posters for the films. So I thought I should do design, it’s another skill and you can earn money with it also. And forget about learning film because you’ll do it anyway!

Intrigued? Explore the cross-media platform for Everyday Rebellion, take part, donate, become a Facebook fan, download manuals, books, unconventional rebellion tactics by experts and check out their app here.

Bare-breasted Feminism & Tough Girl Activism – Filmmaker KITTY GREEN Explains Why UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL

Ukraine is not a Brothel poster

No doubt, everyone has heard of FEMEN by now, the Ukrainian female activist movement famous for its unconventional and controversial protest tactics. But while we’re all familiar with its gutsy members and their very daring topless public appearances, fighting patriarchy and oppression in all its forms, from Putin to the Pope, we know very little about the private stories and histories of the individuals who created this organisation back in 2008 and its most ardent campaigners.

And because a good story is never straightforward or devoid of ambiguities, Australian filmmaker KITTY GREEN spent fours years trying to get to grips with this awe-inspiring movement and getting to know the people behind it. The documentary UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL is the result and fascinating account of her time with the FEMEN group.

This interview was taken on October 16, 2013 at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, London, as part of LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013.

Dana: You spent four years with the members of Femen, filming them and getting to know them…

Kitty: Four years yes more or less. I spent a year then I went back to Australia to find some more money then I came back. It was a long process.

Kitty+Green

Filmmaker Kitty Green

Dana: So tell me a little bit about your experience living with them, you must know this movement inside out.

Kitty: They are very popular in Europe and there was a lot of media coverage of them, whatever they were doing, I knew they were getting a lot of press, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and everybody there every day. So I wanted to make a film that was more intimate and show the different sides to the girls, and more about why they are doing it, where they come from and the country they come from, which is very patriarchal, a really terrible place for women to live. They don’t have many rights there and they don’t have a cultural life often.So I lived with them and I really tried to get that intimate experience, and get to know them really well, and get them to trust me, and I did that by living in a two-bedroom apartment with five Femen activists on the outskirts of Kiev. A very ghetto Soviet apartment but we loved it and it was really good, they are like my sisters now, I’m really close to them. People often said “don’t get too close to them because if you want to be a documentary filmmaker you need to be objective”…

Dana: Being objective is probably an unattainable goal but I suppose you do need a bit of distance…

Kitty: Yeah but I think I managed to find a way to have a bit of distance. Because I’m coming from a Western background, I grew up in Australia, I could see the contradictions within the group, they were more clear and apparent to me than they were to them. So I was able to sit back and question them and ask “What’s going on here?

For a taster of what is going on, watch the trailer here:

Dana: Because there’s a lot going on, the movement is quite paradoxical.

Kitty: Yes, it’s a strange story. So it was nice to be part of them but also to be able to question them. And from my questioning I think they learnt a lot about themselves, it forced them to look at themselves, it gave them some introspection. It really changed them, they became a much stronger organisation as a result and I was really amazed to see that change.

Kitty-Green Femen VeniseDana: How much footage have you accumulated?

Kitty: About 700 hours.

Dana: That is a lot. What was the editing process like?Did you have any help?

Kitty: No, I kind of did everything myself. Most of it was in Ukrainian and Russian and I didn’t want to translate it all, I couldn’t afford to do that. So I had to get it down before I could even start.

Dana: So you speak the language.

Kitty: Yes, I speak Ukrainian. I kind of learnt, my grandma speaks a bit of Ukrainian and I learnt more in order to make the film. In order to speak about politics, gender, inequality, you need to know more.

Dana: Out of 700 hours of footage, what went in, what did you leave out?

Kitty: They wanted me to make a propaganda film basically and I was more interested in making a film that really showed the contradictions in the movement, something a bit more controversial.

Dana: How early on did you become aware of the contradictions?

Kitty: Pretty early,  if you see an image of them, that is contradictory immediately. They protest topless to get attention and that is a contradiction in itself. But the more I observed them, the more contradictory it became, and it upset me a lot, the way they were being treated by certain people, and used by men in that country.

femen inside femen

Dana: Could you give me an example of that?

Kitty: The idea of the film is that it reveals that it was actually men that were running this organisation. I was the only one who had access to that guy [Victor Svyatski]. Because I was their videographer shooting the protests […], I saw the way the movement was being run, and the press doesn’t get to see that, they only see the glossy Femen machine whereas I got to see exactly what was going on behind the curtains. They wanted me to shoot something about Femen and explain who they were but I wasn’t prepared to shoot that. So I had to pretend that I was shooting a propaganda film. So a lot of those 700 hours is me shooting things that they wanted me to shoot, ’cause I knew ultimately that that footage was not going to end up in the film, I was only interested in the things that were contradictory and the things that were honest…

Dana: Is this a project that you initiated or they commissioned you to make this film?How did this project come about in the first place?

Kitty: I wanted to make this film, they wanted me to be their videographer, they needed someone to shoot protests and I could do it well and I fit in, I’m a blonde girl, I could travel with them easily.

femen member

Alexandra Shevchenko, one of the founders of FEMEN

Dana: Did you have to bare your breasts too?

Kitty: (laughing) No way, no. I would go with them often, like they get flown to a certain country and they would bring me along and I would get there and be the videographer. So it was kind of good because I got to go places for free. But what they needed from me was to give them access to videos to put on their website, to get the videos out there and in exchange I made a film out of it. So if  I gave them videos and they gave me their time, I got to sit down with them and do proper interviews and get the footage I needed. So it was a nice exchange.

Inna Shevchenko, one of FEMEN’s most well-known campaigners

Dana: Are they happy with the film? Were they okay with you revealing all these contradictions and paradoxes?

Kitty: Happy is not the word I would use to describe it but I think they were relieved to get a story like that off their chest, they know it is the truth, and they knew it wasn’t right and they knew there were a lot of problems with their organisation. And I think they are really happy that finally someone could speak honestly about what was going on, especially someone they trusted and who knew exactly what was going on. But the fallout was kind of hard because the press really latched on to this idea of these sex-crazed men running this organisation. And he talks about sex in the film and what were his motivations but he’s politically-driven, he’s got his own agenda, so yes they got quite a lot of negative press. And since, they were happy at the screening and they were crying and we were relieved to have that story out but since the press latched on to it, it’s become a whole other thing entirely. And I want more people to see the film because I think it really explains it properly, and there are nuances to it, it’s not just this evil man…

Dana: It never is…

Kitty: Exactly…

Femen pro gay campaignDana:  And now, what has changed in the Femen group?

Kitty: Everything! At the end of my film, one of the girls leaves for Paris to start her own independent Femen headquarter, and four others moved there with her. And they opened a branch in the Netherlands, they sort of escaped Ukraine in a lot of ways and they are opening branches all over Europe. He is no longer a part of it, we don’t know where he is exactly, we think he is somewhere in Switzerland, he’s hard to track down, all the press try to contact him to speak with him.

Dana: Is this as a consequence of the documentary?

Kitty: No, it’s actually a consequence of problems in Ukraine with the Secret Service. So they were hunting down Femen over the last year. He left Ukraine in order to escape, he was beaten up really badly by them actually. It was really horrific, the photos were horrible. He left Ukraine for his own reasons and the girls left Ukraine independently and they are living in other countries and they are finally free of control. Which is lovely for me to see. When I arrived, after opening the film in Paris, I was so so proud of the girls.

Dana: This sounds like a better life for them but I’m thinking Ukraine is more in need of a movement like this than either France or Netherlands is.

Kitty:  That’s true and I think they will go back, it’s just a matter of finding a safe place for them to base themselves. They are not going to leave Ukraine for good, there are so many things going on there.And that’s their homeland. They will always go back to protest.

Dana: Did you have time to experience life in Ukraine outside the Femen group?What is life really like for women there?

Kitty: It was shocking for me when I first arrived, ’cause I grew up in a fairly progressive area in Melbourne and my mother worked and my friends’ mothers worked, so I never saw this kind of gap or gender inequality, I wasn’t exposed to that at all. So arriving in Ukraine where the men worked and women stayed at home and cooked their breakfast and had to look pretty, it was all very shocking to me. So I was really taken aback by that and provided me with a motivation to make the film because I was really overwhelmed by all that.

femen in Paris

Dana: But do you think this is purely as a result of patriarchal pressure or are there economical reasons for this, like lack of jobs for women?

Kitty: I guess it’s both cultural and economical, it’s everything, it’s a very poor country so yes, there aren’t enough jobs. But they would always pick a man over a woman in a country like that because it is a very patriarchal country. So it’s a lot of different factors at play, but right now there aren’t many opportunities for young Ukrainian women who are graduating from university, a few of them in the film were formerly strippers, one of them has a college degree but she couldn’t find work. So she had to become a stripper then she became a Femen activist. Even in the film, all of the girls have different stories of why they became involved with the movement, it’s either to do with how they were brought up, it’s often due to poverty, or an abusive father, or being a stripper. They’ve all experienced patriarchal dominance and wanted to be free of it so they joined Femen.

Dana: What about your future projects, have you got anything lined up?

Kitty: I really want to keep making films about women’s rights, this is where my interest lies, but once you say “I want to make  films about women’s rights” people say “oh that’s so boring” so you gotta find a way to make it attractive, make it sexy. So I’m now looking towards the Middle East, thinking of doing something there, right now it’s interesting for women there but it’s still very early days.

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