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Taken from The Western Courier (Feb 26, 2007)

Musician uses film as ammo

by Ben Snowden

Michael Franti
Michael Franti traveled the war-torn
Middle East with his guitar and camera
to create an award-winning documentary.

Many American families know the cost of the Iraq War, which has claimed the lives of brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers everyday.

However, in Israel, Palestine and Iraq, citizens deal with similar losses - bombs fall, bullets fly and members of households go missing in the night, never to return.

In 2004, musician and first-time filmmaker Michael Franti ventured into Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to make a documentary capturing the human losses caused by war.

Instead of dedicating his film to political issues stemming from the Iraq conflict, Franti spent his time traveling war-torn streets and interviewing musicians, artists and regular citizens.

After shooting more than 200 hours of footage, Franti emerged with the award-winning documentary, "I Know I'm Not Alone."

Franti uses his musicality throughout the film, playing his guitar for troops and even bringing U.S. soldiers together with Iraqi DJs for a party.

In one scene, the director and his friends talk with The Black Scorpions, an Iraqi heavy metal band. The group members discuss their limited freedom of expression as well as their everyday fears of dying.

For the filming, Franti brought along six associates from different walks of life, including his manager, a beauty salon owner, a retired U.S. Army Captain, two human rights lawyers and a drum technician.

According to Jeremy Arendt, Campus Greens Treasurer and freshman general orientation major who has already viewed "I Know I'm Not Alone," the members of the entourage add multiple insights to the documentary.

"They play a significant role in the film," Arendt said. "They all bring their own perspective to the situation, which (causes) different viewpoints to arise."

After spending time in Iraq, Franti and his group travel through the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Tel Aviv, and the journey into new lands provides more inspiring and depressing encounters.

While walking the streets and playing guitar for the locals, Franti faces being shot by the Israeli police. Neither visitors nor locals are safe; his conversations with mothers about their lost children against the background of exploding bombs nearby highlight the danger for everyone.

However, the film focuses on moments of peace and understanding rather than scenes of violence and destruction. Franti attempts to capture the human cost of war by conversing with Iraqi, Palestinian and Israeli citizens rather than trying to turn them against each other.

"I think the film is very important because it shows how much the Iraqi people are being affected by the war," Arendt said. "It will also provide some insight into the situation in Palestine and Israel."

Because of his musical background, Franti wrote the entire soundtrack for "I Know I'm Not Alone." "The music is definitely secondary to the footage," Arendt said.

Outside of his "I Know I'm Not Alone" project, Franti has dedicated most of his career to music. In the 1980s he formed the Beatnigs, a band that blended the genres of industrial, punk and rock. Later, in 1992, he joined the jazzy, beat-driven Disposable Heroes of Hiphopcrisy. By 1994, Franti had formed Spearhead, his current band, which draws influences from funk, soul and rock.


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