June 3, 2022
July 30, 2015: With little more than hope and a prayer, Fabio Zaffagnini uploaded a seven-and-a-half-minute video to YouTube in hopes of getting the attention of rock band Foo Fighters. Zaffagnini had 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 and convince the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to play a show in Cesena. Optimistically, Zaffagnini wanted maybe a million or so views to get the band’s attention, but the video hit tens of millions within days, and made its way to Dave Grohl himself.
Director Anita Rivaroli chronicles Fabio Zaffagini’s idea and the making of the world’s largest band, Rockin’1000, in the joyous and exuberant We Are The Thousand, which made its way to theaters and VOD services in the U.S. this month after a successful film festival run. If you’re a music fan, you will be swept up in the emotional journey as Zaffagnini and his team of dreamers learn to fly together for the pure love of music as they become The Thousand.
In We Are The Thousand, Rivaroli captures not only the creation of the original Rockin’1000 event, but what follows. While the film does document various meetings and discussions to archive the ups and downs leading up to the recording itself, this isn’t just edited tape of chronological events. Rather, Rivaroli integrates interviews with Zaffagnini, members of the Rockin’1000 team, and several of the musicians to provide a multitude of perspectives on the process from conception to execution. Each conversation, anecdote, and confession reveals a similar truth between the interviewees and organizers, whether realized in the moment or after the fact: this event changed their lives. It’s here that the emotional center of the film is found. It can’t help but overwhelm its audience with the infectious energy of artistic creation as the audience is invited to be part of a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Being a Foo Fighters fan is not a prerequisite to enjoying or understanding We Are The Thousand. Zaffagnini and his team picked “Learn to Fly” 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 the production. The unabashed enthusiasm of each participant lends to a legitimately emotional experience. Much of this comes from the editing, which creates a beautiful flow in the rhythm of the images, highlighting groups of singers, individual guitarists, bassists, and drummers. 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. Though the recent passing of drummer Taylor Hawkins is not mentioned in the documentary, seeing Hawkins’ vibrancy on-screen as well as the admiration from the Rockin’1000 members creates a bittersweetness that wells up within Thousand.
Where Thousand falters is that it never goes too deep on Zaffagnini himself or his motivations for the project. 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 many doubters saying how they didn’t believe in Zaffagnini’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 we’re well into the documentary that we learn the names of some interviewees we’ve been listening to. As a result, Thousand comes across as designed for those already familiar with the backstory of Zaffagnini and his team, creating a gap between those in the know and those who aren’t. This is at times frustrating because everything about Thousand is so pure and devoid of cynicism, that it’s easy to get swept up in the optimism and music, despite the audience barely knowing who the organizers and participants were.
Maybe this is intentional as some of the most moving stories come from the members of The Thousand. In one instance, we learn how participating became a family affair between a musical father and his similarly inclined kids. In another, we learn how an older man with no real experience used this event as an opportunity to buy himself a guitar and play in public. These shared experiences more than make up for any shortcomings one might find in the 80-minute documentary. We Are The Thousand isn’t about whether or not Foo Fighters came to Cesena– history already tells us they do. The real story within the film is how Rivaroli captures what happens when strangers come together with a shared goal born out of positivity and love of music.
We Are The Thousand is now playing in select theaters and available on VOD everywhere.