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A short film exploring use of political graffiti and street art as a catalyst for popular revolutions and uprisings around the world.

(cover image courtesy of Cheri Lucas Rowlands)

THE STORY

This Is Not Graffiti is a 20-to-25 minute short documentary film on the critical role that politically-charged graffiti and street art has played in uprisings and revolutions around the world, particularly the recent popular revolts in the Arab world that began in Tunisia in 2011.

Despite the preferred media narrative that the Arab uprisings were the 'Facebook Revolution,' what is often overlooked is the enormous impact that anonymous graffiti and street art played in galvanizing the public (particularly youth) and served as a revolutionary call-to-arms, where the walls became a canvas to speak truth-to-power and proved to be a powerful weapon of resistance.

In fact, the current conflict in Syria began simply with a group of teenage boys who, while watching the events in Libya and Egypt unfold on TV, spray-painted on their school wall the simple phrase “Your Turn Has Come, Doctor” — referring to President Assad, a Western-trained ophthalmologist. 

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, graffiti and street art became the prime communications vehicle for people to vent their anger, express their hopes and dreams, and demand action.

Images from Cairo, Beirut, and Tunisia (2011)
Images from Cairo, Beirut, and Tunisia (2011)

But this phenomenon is hardly new. 

Graffiti dates back to walls of prehistoric caves. But its modern use as a political weapon came into plain view in revolutionary pre-war Europe of the mid-1900s, eventually coming into its own during the 1968 French riots where all across Paris, a groundswell of creative street expression came from striking workers and students, who spray-painted walls with poetic and philosophical slogans, speaking to its readers on a much more emotional level. 

"Be realistic, ask the impossible." (Paris, 1968)
"Be realistic, ask the impossible." (Paris, 1968)

Since then, revolutionary graffiti and street art can be found all over the world and has played a vital role during times of political transformation and social instability, creating a shared public visual space which symbolically and physically challenges the establishment and the dominant ideologies, and has tremendously influenced the great social and political upheavals of the past century.

THE FILM

This Is Not Graffiti will examine this history and evolution while telling this global story by way of a local one, mixing interviews on the subject here in the New York City area with a week in Cairo talking with those who have made, studied, and been directly impacted by these words and images.

The film will also explore how this effort to demand change from governments has led to other calls, most prominently from women in Egypt — a country that recently ranked last in the Middle East for women's rights — who have taken to street art to demand change from their own society.

A revolution within a revolution. 

"Don't Categorize Me" (Cairo, 2011)
"Don't Categorize Me" (Cairo, 2011)

THE PLAN

We are seeking the funds in this Kickstarter campaign to fully produce, finish, and submit the film to festivals around the world by the end of Spring 2014. You join us on the ground floor for this endeavor

We have been in touch with several of the people who we hope to visit with and interview on-camera, and are ready to begin production as soon as this campaign is successfully funded. 

We will interview people in the New York City area in early January 2014, and then fly to Cairo in February during the third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution where we will spend a week shooting.

Editing, scoring, and finishing the film will be completed by April when we will begin an aggressive film festival campaign—domestically and internationally—where we fully expect the film will find a home for the next year or two.

THE FUNDS

Filmmaking is not an inexpensive endeavor and funds for independent documentaries are in short supply. Your donations will allow us to fully fund this film (***there will be no second Kickstarter project to finish this film, we promise!***), permitting us to:

  • rent film gear: while we own much of the equipment needed, we will need to rent some lighting accessories, camera gear, and some additional audio components.
  • transportation: a week in Cairo, Egypt for our very small crew will account for the vast majority of our travel costs, though there will be several days of production travel locally, as well.
  • music: allow us to hire a composer for an original score for the film.
  • crew: our very small crew of three will require very modest funds to pay for a cinematographer and sound recordist, and a small fee to direct and produce this project.
  • post-production work: while we will handle a large majority of the work for this film ourselves, we will need to outsource some graphic design, audio work, color correction, and film transfers to specialty houses.
  • film festival submissions: film festival submissions, even for shorts, run between $35 and $50 a piece, and an aggressive festival campaign will require 75-100 submissions, and the cost for us to attend our theatrical premiere.
  • miscellaneous production expenses: production always requires small purchases that add up — from food for the crew and volunteers, to periodic runs to Office Deport or Radio Shack or Home Depot, to unexpected fees for traveling and driving, etc.
  • Kickstarter rewards: though we were careful to create great rewards for our donors, we were also cost-conscious in making sure that they accounted for a reasonable portion of the overall budget to create, acquire and ship.

THE COMMUNITY

Anything you can do to help our project is so incredibly appreciated. We are grateful for every contribution, tweet, Facebook post, and words of support and encouragement! We are not just here to raise money. Kickstarter has shown itself to be a way for filmmakers to build communities, bringing together people who feel invested and are active participants in our creative work — this one — and those that we'll make in the future. 

We hope that this will be the first of many projects you will join us on in the future. But, of course, we need this one to be successful to ensure that there are many more.

Please join us on this great project, and thank you.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Documentary filmmaking is about being flexible—getting past unexpected obstacles by finding creative solutions. Film projects rarely unfold without navigating roadblocks and always being ready for a back-up plan as you're shooting.

The greatest uncertainty moving forward —after we are fully funded—is whether another episode of political unrest in the Middle East makes traveling there too risky or difficult. Of course, Egypt has been a long ally of the U.S. and much less hostile towards Americans than other countries in the region, and the on-location filming will be done with great care to be discreet and private, and avoiding sensitive government locations. Moreover, we will work closely with our film production company's legal counsel to minimize any issues related to shooting in a location like Cairo.

But should these trouble arise, we can delay shooting for a period of time, arrange for interviews to take place in other cities in the region, or we focus our interviews on the players who currently live elsewhere. If a setback manages to delay production, the most-likely outcome would be missing a film festival deadline. Regardless, our Kickstarter backers will still screen it first!

On a creative level, our challenge here is the one that all documentary filmmakers face when going into such a project: finding a narrative arc that, through images and interviews and music, tells a powerful and compelling story. One of the biggest challenges in accomplishing this will be finding the right people to help tell this story—especially the street artists themselves—many of whom work under aliases to keep their identities concealed, so putting them on camera requires great care and trust, placing greater emphasis on the pre-interview relationship-building and production planning.

FAQ

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    ***STAND ALONE SPECIAL REWARD*** Station 16, a Montreal Street Art & Graffiti gallery and print shop has generously offered to produce a limited edition silk screen print that will be signed and numbered by a Cairo political street artist that is spotlighted in the film! Each print will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Station 16. Edition of 50, printed on fine art paper. A huge thanks to Station 16 for the generous offer! (NOTE: this is a stand-alone special reward and separate from the current reward structure. Current backers should increase their pledge by $125. New backers would need to increase this pledge if they wanted the standard rewards.)

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- (36 days)