How to Start a Revolution

How to Start a Revolution is a BAFTA Scotland Award-winning British documentary film about Nobel Peace Prize nominee and political theorist Gene Sharp, described as the world's foremost scholar on nonviolent revolution. The 2011 film describes Sharp's ideas and their influence on popular uprisings around the world. Screened in cinemas and television in more than 22 countries it became popular among the Occupy Wall Street Movement.[3] A book of the documentary, Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution, was released in October 2020.[4]

How to Start a Revolution
Movie poster showing close-up of Gene Sharp's face, with title "How to Start a Revolution", and list of awards.
Directed byRuaridh Arrow
Written byRuaridh Arrow
Produced byRichard Shaw[1]
Cailean Watt, assistant producer
James Otis, executive producer
StarringGene Sharp
Jamila Raqib
Colonel Robert "Bob" Helvey
Srđa Popović
Ahmed Maher
Ausama Monajed
CinematographyPhilip Bloom[1]
Edited byMike Crozier[1]
Lorrin Braddick
Distributed byTVF International[2]
Release date
  • 18 September 2011 (2011-09-18)
Running time
85 minutes


Directed by British journalist Ruaridh Arrow, the film follows the use of Gene Sharp's work across revolutionary groups throughout the world. There is particular focus on Sharp's key text From Dictatorship to Democracy[5] which has been translated by democracy activists into more than 30 languages and used in revolutions from Serbia and Ukraine to Egypt and Syria. The film describes how Sharp's 198 methods of nonviolent action have inspired and informed uprisings across the globe.


A primary character of the film is Gene Sharp, founder of the Albert Einstein Institution; and a 2009 and 2012 nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.[6][7] Sharp has been a scholar on nonviolent action for more than 50 years, and has been called both the "Machiavelli of nonviolence" and the "Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare."[8] Other main characters include Jamila Raqib, a former refugee who fled Afghanistan and the Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution;[9] Colonel Robert "Bob" Helvey;[citation needed] Srđa Popović, leader of the Otpor! students group Serbia;[10] Ahmed Maher, leader of April 6 democracy group Egypt; and Ausama Monajed, a Syrian activist.

Background and productionEdit

Scottish journalist Ruaridh Arrow, who wrote, directed and co-produced the film, explained that he first learned about Gene Sharp's work as a student, and then heard that Sharp's booklets were turning up on the sites of many revolutions, while Sharp himself remained largely unknown. In explaining his motivation to make the film, Arrow stated:

Here was this old man [Gene Sharp] sitting in a crumpled house in Boston and that is where revolutionaries go for advice. It was one of the world's great little secrets. It was a little bit of magic and I had to make a film about it.[11]

The film was privately funded by Ruaridh Arrow and additional funding was raised through the US crowdfunding site Kickstarter.[11] The Kickstarter campaign raised $57,342 in just under four weeks[11][12] making it the most successful British crowdfunded film currently completed. Several high-profile figures are credited by the producers with supporting the crowdfunding project, including director Richard Linklater and actress Miriam Margolyes.[13] Completion funding was donated by US art collector James Otis who in 2009 sold a large collection of Gandhi possessions, including Gandhi's iconic glasses and sandals. Otis stated that he was selling the items to help fund nonviolent struggle projects and is described as the Executive Producer of the film.[14]

Principal photography began in May 2009 with Director of Photography Philip Bloom in Boston.[1] Interview sequences were shot on Sony EX1 cameras with a Letus 35mm lens adapter and the Canon 5dmk2 DSLR camera.[15] Arrow travelled to Egypt to film the Egyptian revolution in February 2011 but his camera equipment was seized by Egyptian secret police on landing and key sequences had to be filmed on an iphone4. Arrow reported live from Tahrir Square for BBC News during this period.[7]

Release and accoladesEdit

The premiere was held in Boston on 18 September 2011, the day after the Occupy Wall St protests officially began in New York. The film received a standing ovation and won Best Documentary and the Mass Impact awards at the Boston Film Festival;[11][16] and went on to be screened at Occupy camps across the US and Europe, including at the Bank of Ideas in London.[11][17][18]

The European premiere was held at Raindance Film Festival in London where the film received the award for Best Documentary.[19][20] Subsequent awards have included Best Documentary Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 2011, Special Jury Award One World Film Festival Ottawa, Jury Award Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival and Best Film, Barcelona Human Rights Film Festival. In Apri 2012, BAFTA Scotland announced that Arrow and the film had won its New Talent Award in the Factual (longer than 30 minutes) category;[21] and the film was shortlisted for a Grierson Award in July 2012.

How to Start a Revolution was picked up for distribution by TVF International[2] in the UK and 7th Art Releasing in the US.[22] The film has reportedly been translated into nine languages, including Japanese and Russian.[11] The Albert Einstein Institute has reported that the film has been shown internationally on several television stations.[23]


The film has received a positive critical reception. It received four stars in Time Out London, "a reminder of the importance of intellectual thought to the everyday".[24] The Huffington Post said it was a "vital conversation starter and educational tool in a world awash with violence"[9] and in the UK The Daily Telegraph described it as a "World conquering Documentary".[25] The New York Times[10] called it a "noble documentary" but criticised the absence of historical context of nonviolent struggles pre-dating Sharp. Variety described the film as "straightforward", "informative", and "with potential to be updated as world events unfold", stating it "should have a long shelf life". Negative references have been made to the use of dramatic music during certain sequences.[26]


How to Start a Revolution was released on 18 September 2011, the day after the first Occupy protests in Wall St, New York. The film was described as the unofficial film of the Occupy movement[27] and shown in camps across the US and Europe.[28][29][30] It was one of a number of high-profile events held in London's Bank of Ideas along with a concert by British band Radiohead.[citation needed]

In 2012, following the Mexican general election one of the country's largest newspapers reported that protestors were circulating a pirated Spanish translation of How to Start a Revolution which had gone viral in the country.[31] The translation was viewed over half a million times in the space of three days. Reports have also been published citing the airing of the film on Spanish television concurrent with widespread discussion of Sharp's work in the Spanish anti-austerity 15-M Movement.[32]

The academic premiere was hosted by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School on 11 October 2011,[33] and In February 2012, How to Start a Revolution was screened to an audience of MPs and Lords in the UK Houses of Parliament by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues, which was attended by Sharp and Arrow.[34]

A film about the making of How to Start a Revolution, entitled Road to Revolution, was screened in January 2012 by Current TV in the UK.[35][36]

On January 22, 2017, after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the PBS America channel screened How to Start a Revolution immediately after a Frontline investigation into his election.[37]

Touch DocumentaryEdit

In 2012 How to Start a Revolution was among the first "Touch Documentaries" to be released using the Apple iPad platform. The film was integrated into the platform along with several of Sharp's lectures and four of Gene Sharp's books in several languages, including From Dictatorship to Democracy. The app is supplemented by analysis and satellite mapping which is offered up to the viewer while watching the film.[38] A "Revolution Monitor" is also included, which fuses Google Earth maps with Twitter displaying tweets and YouTube links from revolutionary groups and individuals when countries of interest are touched by the viewer.[39] A review by Peace and Collaborative Development Network described the app as "simply a must-have among peace studies scholars, those actively working to start or reorganize revolutions, or anyone who is interested in the logistics, history, and outcomes of nonviolent revolutions".[38] The How to Start a Revolution touch documentary was shortlisted for the International Best Digital Media award in the One World Media Awards 2013.[40]


  1. ^ a b c d Production Team Archived 26 January 2013 at (from film website (accessed 2 May 2012)
  2. ^ a b Michael Rosser (11 August 2011) TVF to bring doc on non-violent revolt to Mipcom (accessed 2 May 2012)
  3. ^ Flintoff, John-Paul (3 January 2013). "Gene Sharp: The Machiavelli of non-violence". New Statesman. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  4. ^ Arrow, Ruaridh (2020). Gene Sharp How to Start a Revolution. United Kingdom: Big Indy Books. ISBN 979-8686588257.
  5. ^ Gene Sharp (2010), From Dictatorship to Democracy (full text online) Archived 9 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine (4th ed.). East Boston, NA: Albert Einstein Institution. ISBN 978-1-880813-09-6, ISBN 1-880813-09-2, OCLC 706499601
  6. ^ Oslo Newsroom (27 February 2012). "Former President Bill Clinton among Nobel Prize nominees". Reuters. The story states: "Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo and one of the individuals eligible to nominate candidates, has released a short list of those names he had submitted. It is headed by Gene Sharp, a U.S. writer and philosopher who has long advocated non-violent action for social justice" (accessed 5 March 2012).
  7. ^ a b Arrow, Ruaridh (21 February 2011). "Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook". BBC News Middle East. (accessed 2 May 2012)
  8. ^ Weber, Thomas (2004). Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-521-84230-3.
  9. ^ a b Siegel, Dan (19 October 2011). "Film Review: How to Start a Revolution [review of How to Start a Revolution]". Huffington Post. (accessed 2 May 2012)
  10. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (23 February 2012). "Ways to Change the World, Nonviolently [review of How to Start a Revolution]". New York Times. p. C15.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Annie (24 March 2012). "Scot's battle to make film on little-known guru of uprisings around world". Daily Record (Scotland).
  12. ^ Page at Kickstarter for How to Start a Revolution
  13. ^ Film website, "Special Thanks" Archived 26 January 2013 at (from (accessed 2 May 2012))
  14. ^ Benjamin Sarlin (1 May 2009). "Gandhi's (Few) Possessions Go Up For Auction in New York" (accessed 2 May 2012)
  15. ^ Philip Bloom website (2011). Material about filming Gene Sharp from Blog from 29 May 2009 (accessed 2 May 2012)
  16. ^ Travers, Will (27 September 2011). "How to Start a Revolution premieres at Boston Film Festival, wins awards". Waging Nonviolence. (accessed 2 May 2012)
  17. ^ Occupy Boston website (9 November 2011) "“How To Start a Revolution” Film Screening at Occupy Boston tonight, 7pm" (accessed 2 May 2012)
  18. ^ The Occupied Times of London. Sun Street Eviction: No Rescue Package for Bank of Ideas Archived 20 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2 May 2012)
  19. ^ OneWorld. "Revolution at Raindance: Raindance Announces Festival Line Up - The World through a Different Lens" (accessed 2 May 2012)
  20. ^ Festival Awards (19th Raindance Festival, October 2011)[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Scotland (12 March 2012). "New Talent Awards Winners in 2012" (accessed 30 April 2012).
  22. ^ "How to Start a Revolution" (page at Seventh Art Releasing) (accessed 2 May 2012)
  23. ^ Raqib and Sharp (15 December 2011) Letter addressed to "Dear Friends" Archived 2 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine (posted on website of Albert Einstein Institution). The letter reported that the film How to Start a Revolution has been shown "on network television channels in Australia, Israel, and here in the United States on Current Television." (p. 6). (accessed 10 May 2012)
  24. ^ Emmajo Read (no date), Review of "How to Start a Revolution" Archived 4 February 2013 at, Time Out London (accessed 2 May 2012)
  25. ^ Gray, Louise (21 October 2011). "Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution [review of How to Start a Revolution]". Daily Telegraph.
  26. ^ Harvey, Dennis (1 November 2011). "How to Start a Revolution [film review]". Variety.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 May 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 February 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Spanish movement
  33. ^
  34. ^ "'How To Start A Revolution' with Gene Sharp". Conflict Issues: An all-party parliamentary group. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012.
  35. ^ Road to Revolution Premieres 1 January at 8.30pm Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2 May 2012)
  36. ^ After the screening of the Road to Revolution, the film itself, How to Start a Revolution, was also shown on Current TV: How To Start A Revolution Premieres 1 January at 9pm Archived 2 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine (accessed 2 May 2012)
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  39. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  40. ^

External linksEdit