July 30th, 2015: With little more than hope and a prayer, Fabio Zaffagnini uploaded a 7:28 minute video he and his friends had made to YouTube in hopes of getting the attention of rock band Foo Fighters. What did he want to do with their attention? Convince them to come to Cesena, Italy, to play a show. How is a video posted to YouTube going to accomplish such a feat? Zaffagnini gathered together 1,000 musicians from across Italy to play one Foo Fighters song, “Learn to Fly,” in hopes that their passion would translate to excitement, convincing band members singer/guitarist/drummer Dave Grohl, bassist Nate Mendel, guitarist Pat Smear, drummer Taylor Hawkins, lead guitarist Chris Shiflett, and keyboardist Rami Jaffee, that their music means everything. Fabio optimistically held hope for maybe getting a million or so views so that they could move onto the next step of trying to contact Foo Fighters, but they hit tens of millions within days, the video making its way to Grohl himself. Director Anita Rivaroli chronicles the journey of Fabio Zaffagini and the making of the world’s largest band, Rockin’1000, in the joyous and exuberant We Are The Thousand, making its way to theaters and VOD services in the U.S. after playing on the festival circuit. If you’re a music fan at all, you will be swept up in the emotional journey as Fabio and his team of dreamers learn to fly together for the joy of it, for the pure love of music, for the love of Foo Fighters, as they become The Thousand.
Not all stories need life or death stakes. In fact, sometimes the story itself is about the journey, whether or not you’re aware of the outcome. This is especially the case with We Are The Thousand, a documentary which chronicles the making of the video which would do more than bring Foo Fighters to Cesena, but change the lives of everyone involved. Personally, I’d forgotten about the video, thinking of it only as a cool novelty seeing as it released roughly six weeks after my first son and niece were born. To that end, Thousand felt entirely like a surprise, going on this journey of discovery with Fabio and his team as Rivaroli captures various meetings and discussions to record the ups and downs leading up to the recording itself. Rather than merely editing that tape together so we, the audience, see everything in chronological order, Rivaroli also integrates interviews with Fabio, members of the Rockin’1000 team, and several of the musicians who played the event in order to provide various perspectives on the process from conception to execution. Each conversation, each anecdote, each confession reveals a similar truth between the interviewees and organizers, whether captured in the moment or after the fact: this event changed their lives. It’s here that the emotional center of the film is found and one which can’t help but overwhelm its audience as the infectious energy leaps from the screen, carrying audiences away as we’re invited to be part of something truly once-in-a-lifetime.
I’m not a huge Foo Fighters fan. I’ve enjoyed their music over the years and have found their sense of humor hilarious at times, but I’ve never been the sort to buy tickets to one of their shows. Their recent band movie/horror film Studio 666 is a darn good time due to the way it incorporates/amplifies each band member’s personality while mixing in some nice Evil Dead-type action. I mention this because being a Foo Fighters fan is not a prerequisite to enjoying or understanding We Are The Thousand. Heck, the song Fabio and his team pick, “Learn to Fly” comes from their 1999 album There Is Nothing Left To Lose, which makes it an oldie but not necessarily something that young or hip kids will know. It’s selected because the team deemed it the easiest of the band’s songs to play, a means of minimizing complexity as they tried to figure out the technical, technological, and sound mechanics of their endeavor. Instead, what caused tears to flow for the majority of the 82 minutes of the documentary was seeing the unabashed enthusiasm of each team member, each applicant, each selected musician as they sought to make Fabio’s dream come true. It’s been years since I’ve been to a concert (my eldest being born reduced our ability well before COVID-19) and Thousand is the first time since a The Darkness concert in 2018 that I’ve felt the kind of communal energy which a concert evokes. Much of this comes from the editing, the strength of which creates a beautiful flow in the rhythm of the images, highlighting groups of singers, individual guitarists or bassists, and drummers to the beat of the song. Beat after beat, note after note, the merry musicians jump, dance, and boogie their way through “Learn to Fly,” taking the audience to the skies with them. Of course, knowing that drummer Taylor Hawkins recently passed recently puts a different spin on seeing these musicians play, a certain bittersweet feeling laid over it all. Yet, it’s clear that Hawkins’s legacy continues in the international musicians who looked up to him and the rest of the Foo Fighters.
Where Thousand falters is that it never goes too deep on Fabio himself, we’re not introduced to the team in any kind of conventional manner, and it’s frequently difficult to feel like we know who we’re hearing stories from. The documentary starts with people saying how they didn’t believe in Fabio’s idea, but we have no idea who they are or his relationship to them as members of the Rockin’1000 team. It’s not until I read the production notes accompanying Thousand that I learned that Fabio was a marine biologist before all of this. At no point are we given a reason Fabio decides to attempt this, beyond the surface-level of wanting to get Foo Fighters to come to Cesena; there’s no explanation of his motivation, no idea of where putting together The Thousand comes from. It’s not until we start seeing some of the tutorial footage posted to YouTube from the various titled “gurus” that helped potential singers, guitarists, bassists, and drummers that we learn the names of the people we’ve already been listening to discuss their experience working with Fabio on this idea. Perhaps because this originally took place in 2015 with the Foo Fighters performing in 2016, perhaps because Rockin’1000 now is more than this one assemblage of musicians, but several international groups, but Thousand is designed for those already familiar with the backstory, accidentally creating a gap between those in the know and those not. This is, at times, incredibly frustrating because everything about Thousand is so damn pure, so devoid of cynicism or cunning, that it’s easy to get swept up in the optimism and music, yet I felt like I barely knew who the people were that put this thing together.
Maybe this is intentional as some of the most moving stories come from the members of The Thousand, whether it’s laying out how it became a family affair between a father and his two kids or how an older man (occupation: sea captain) had been recently diagnosed with a medical condition and used this event as an opportunity to buy himself a guitar and play in public. He notes later as some of his fellow Thousand recognize him and yell for him, as he is going to the Foo Fighters concert, that they are like his adopted children. These stories of found family, of shared experience, more than make up for any short-comings one might find. I don’t think it matters that history tells us that the Foo Fighters come to Cesena any more than the trailer doing so because the real story here isn’t about whether Fabio gets the Foo Fighters to come. In truth, We Are The Thousand captures for the record a story of what happens when strangers come together with a shared goal born out of positivity and love.
In theaters and on VOD June 3rd, 2022.
For more information, head to either the official Blue Fox Entertainment We Are The Thousand webpage, official Indyca We Are The Thousand webpage, or the official Rockin’1000 website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming
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