The Pitch: Anyone who has ever lived in a small town understands the frustration of being constantly passed over by bands in favor of larger markets and bigger venues. While most just grumble about it, there are those dedicated fans who will do whatever it takes to experience a live performance from a treasured artist. For most, that means a road trip. But for marine biologist Fabio Zaffagnini, it meant thinking out of the box in a dramatic and unprecedented way.
In 2015, Zaffagnini hatched an elaborate plan to lure his favorite band—Foo Fighters—to his small Italian town of Cesena. Gathering 1,000 local musicians together to simultaneously play one of the band’s songs, Zaffagnini and his crew of enthusiastic friends recorded and released the performance on YouTube in hopes to capture the band’s attention. Not only did they succeed, Zaffagnini’s bold experiment crushed expectations and sent ripples of joyful inspiration across the globe.
Following Zaffagnini on this rock-fueled adventure was director Anita Rivaroli, who documented each and every moment. From beginning to end, Rivaroli captures lightning in a bottle to deliver an inspirational story Hollywood screenwriters can only dream of.
Learn to Fly: As the doc begins, it dives headfirst into the early stages of Zaffagnini’s odd plan to assemble 250 singers, 150 bassists, 350 guitarists, and 250 drummers together in one place to simultaneously perform the classic (and simplest) Foo Fighters song, “Learn to Fly”. Through candid footage and interviews with event organizers, the excitement of all involved radiates through the screen. Driven by sheer passion, there’s a refreshingly earnest ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude surrounding the team’s approach. None of them professional event organizers, the heavy realities of organizing such a massive event on a tight, completely crowdfunded budget quickly rise to the surface. Not only does this sincere vulnerability accurately convey the weight of what is about to be attempted, it reinforces the perfect normalcy of everyone involved in a highly relatable and powerful way.
As the big day finally arrives, Rivaroli begins to highlight some of the early adopter participants through personal interviews. They speak about their past history with music, their day jobs, fears, strengths, and motivations. Intercutting one with the other, a beautiful and subtle shift begins to occur. No longer is the doc just about Zaffagnini and his wild, wonderful plan, it becomes about everyone involved and the way the Foo Fighters brought them together. Metalheads, punks, shower singers, kids, retired grandfathers, and experienced gig musicians became united by a singular goal. Obliterating egos with it’s massive scale, the event’s imperative need for synchronicity further allowed a cohesive undercurrent of unity to rapidly take hold. Transcending the music itself, this shared experience sparked new friendships and bonds that allowed everyone involved to live out their rock star dreams. That day, on a field in Italy, the world’s largest band was born.
It Wasn’t A Fantasy, It Was Reality: Though expectations were conservative following the video’s release on YouTube, all predictions became shattered as the video went viral. Garnering international attention, the newly dubbed Rockin’1000 captured the hearts of the world with their earnest, jubilant and personal plea to the illustrious rock gods. While the global interest was certainly appreciated, success was truly achieved when the team received a very special message (in Italian) from Dave Grohl himself—the Foo Fighters were coming to Cesena.
Unlike some fandoms who bully creatives through incessant whining, the genuine and collective humility from each member of the Rockin’1000 weighs as heavily into their success as the sonic feat itself. Still as powerful now as it was six years ago, the uplifting images of former strangers exuberantly singing and playing together in harmony have undoubtedly induced as many goosebumps and tears as views. Swayed by the group’s heartfelt and gleeful performance, not even a broken leg could keep Grohl and the Foo Fighters from keeping their promise to the Rockin’1000. Finally, in November of 2015, Cesena was given the show of a lifetime and the Foo Fighters were given a night they will certainly never forget.
Why Stop Here: What’s truly lovely about We Are The Thousand is the fact that Rivaroli kept her camera running long after the Foo Fighters exited the narrative. For many members of the Rockin’1000, the Foo Fighters experience reignited stagnant passions, formed true friendships and served as a positive motivating force to further pursue music. In a beautifully unexpected turn of events, dozens of participants reached out to organizers with a heartfelt desire to chase the creative high and newly found sense of community. Acknowledging and hearing their impassioned request, the team got the band back together again. Now capable of learning an entire set, the film leaves off with the group playing to 15,000 people in Frankfurt, Germany. Never in a million years did Zaffagnini imagine that his clever ploy to see the Foo Fighters would ever become something as big and meaningful as this. And yet, it did. Although ultimately put on pause due to the global pandemic, the Rockin’1000 went on to play sold out arenas around the world.
The Verdict: As the potential for large gatherings grows closer every day, the timing could not be more perfect for Rivaroli’s heart-warming tribute to the world’s largest band. Though not the most essential or in-depth documentary out there, it is an undeniable crowd pleaser guaranteed to soften the most hardened and cynical of hearts. Brimming with genuine enthusiasm and chill-inducing moments of earnest joy, We Are The Thousand highlights the absolute best that music and humanity has to offer.
Not only that, but We Are The Thousand solidifies the Foo Fighters as one of rock’s most inspiring and genuine groups of all time. Though their on-screen presence is relatively brief compared with the doc’s total runtime, Grohl and his fellow Foo’s shared enthusiasm is certain to endear them to even the most casual of fans.
More than an underdog story, We Are The Thousand acts as a pure emotional injection of rock n’ roll straight to the heart and a rousing reminder of how quickly ravaging flames of change can develop from a single spark of an idea.
Where’s It Streaming? The documentary recently won the Audience Award at the 2021 South by Southwest Film Festival and is currently awaiting a proper release date.