"Inducted up into the government's war/ As if the land, money, oil - funny how ain't none of it yours/ I can't sleep yo' I'm paranoid, it's code orange/ It's far from right, I guess that's why it feels so wrong..."
The Roots - "Why (What's Goin On?)"
Early into "I Know I'm Not Alone," the always outspoken Michael Franti explains his motive for wanting to make his first film:
"After years of watching and reading about war in the Middle East, I began to grow a little frustrated with the news. Hearing generals and politicians explain about the economic and political cost of war without ever talking about the human cost of war."
The politically-minded Franti's musical output has taken on many different forms (he's been a member of several groups including The Beatnigs with DJ Rono Tse, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and Spearhead), but has always been filled with social conciousness and rallied against injustices throughout the world.
In 2004 armed with an acoustic guitar and a small film crew he made his way to Baghdad, Israel, and the occupied Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza. By speaking with the people who live in these areas - taxi drivers, doctors, tattoo artists, musicians, and families, as opposed to politicians, he attempts to give an honest portrayal of what their lives are like.
Amongst the powerful images in the war-torn Baghdad comes compelling commentary from his guides, a pair of intelligent, well-spoken taxi drivers named Isam Qasim and Maher Al-Wahhash. With no security, no electricity, and often no running water in homes Al-Wahhash provides a stark vision of the reality many Iraqis now face everyday when he says, "This is what they brought to Iraq from overseas. This is the new freedom."
One of the members of the Black Scorpion, an Iraqi metal band that Franti meets who string their guitars with telephone wire, says matter of factly, "I'm really afraid of dying in war." American soldiers chime in with similar sentiments and often wish to go home showing that people from both sides are scared and not content with the situation they have been forced into. During his first encounter with American and Iraqi soldiers mysterious bombs erupt in the background. Franti confesses that they never found out what had happened, but states that it was the first of several blasts they heard while there.
Just as moving is Franti and company's visit to Israel and Palestine. A teenage girl living in a Palestinian refugee camp tries to break through all of the politics as she candidly remarks, "We have many ways to struggle. We have many things to do in our life. We can throw stones, but we can also dance, speak, smile, laugh ... we are humans."
Regardless of whatever views on the situations in the Middle East viewers may have, hers and Franti's ultimate message that we are all humans who feel the same emotions, want the same basic things, and have the same fears is what truly hits home in "I'm Not Alone." The depressing reality is that governments will likely always find reasons to squabble. We as a race do not have to support them as we come to better realization that regardless of where we live, what language we speak, or the colour of our skin we are all people. The documentary has many sad moments, but is filled with the feeling of hope that one day everyone will be able to solve their problems in a peaceful manner.
Throughout the film, Franti tries not to preach about who is right or wrong. Although "I Know I'm Not Alone" does contain statistics about the various parties involved and things they've done, which usually aren't good, it merely informs and doesn't attack the countries policies in any way. As the film fades out Franti sums things up perfectly by saying he's not on the side of any one country. His ultimate support likes with the peacemakers, wherever they may be from.
Snippets of Franti's music are scattered throughout the film and there are a few acoustic performances, but it is by no means about the prolific musician. Fans and non-fans alike can take something away from the well-shot, good intentioned film.
reviewed by shawn