King’s alumnus Ruaridh Arrow on his film: How to Start a Revolution
It’s not often that Ruaridh Arrow’s (War Studies, 1998-99) name gets into the papers, but his work has hit the headlines on many occasions. During his investigation into Super Casinos, he got documents leaked showing that the police had warned the government against them, which lead to the House of Lords striking down the legislation. He interviewed Robin Cook about the London 7/7 bombings. It turned out to be the last interview before his death. And making his most recent film he found himself caught up in the climatic moments of the Egyptian revolution this year.
Ruaridh, who is originally from Inverness, studied in King’s War Studies department before moving to Glasgow University, where he won the Scottish Young Journalist of the Year and a Guardian Student Media Award for investigations including one into the European paedophile network in Vietnam. “I concentrated on doing investigations,” says Ruaridh, “and when I was travelling that just kind of came up. I didn’t go out there to do that but I started talking to locals about this terrible thing.”
Thanks to the awards Ruaridh got a reporting job on The Herald in Scotland, and from there he took a producer job at Sky News. He later moved to Channel 4's Dispatches, where he was a producer, but he has since gone freelance. “What I really want to do is documentaries like those in Dispatches, but on subjects that I really want to do.”
The world’s most expensive home video
Ruaridh's most recent film, How To Start A Revolution, shows the research of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gene Sharp in action across the world. The film has been in the pipeline for two years. “Gene Sharpe’s book – Power and Struggle (Politics of Nonviolent Action) – has been used in every revolution. I started researching his work and following the trail of where it had been used.” But when Ruaridh first pitched the film it got a lukewarm reception. “The commissioning editors said ‘No-one’s ever heard of him, it’s some peace-freaky thing, it’s not very interesting, and we really can’t give you money’.”
The 30-year-old decided to do it anyway: “I think sometimes if you believe in something you’ve just got to go and do it any way you can.” Ruaridh took on other jobs to pay the bills and worked on the film when he could. “Before Christmas I was working at the National Geographic channel. I’d do the week at the National Geographic and then at the weekend, I’d get on a plane to Serbia and I’d go and spend a weekend filming and then I’d come back and do another week, then go off the next weekend to Bosnia,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong – for a long time I thought that I was making the world’s most expensive home video ever.”
I was in Tahrir Square when all of the crazy stuff was happening. Lots of the other correspondents had been pulled out so I ended up doing reports for the BBC because I was one of the last reporters left.
Ruaridh Arrow (War Studies, 2001)
“I went to Boston where the book was written, then to Serbia to meet the guy who had overthrown Milosevic. I was just about to finish that film when the Egyptian revolution happened and so I thought ‘I’ve got to go’. I went over there and I decided to spend some time in Tahrir Square. I got trapped when all of the crazy stuff was happening and I ended up sleeping in the Square. Lots of the other correspondents had been pulled out because it was too dangerous but I was stuck there because I was on my own so I ended up doing reports for the BBC totally by accident because I was one of the last reporters left.”
“When I came back I took the film back to the same commissioning editors and they said ‘Oh we love it, we see what you mean now’. The timing has been brilliant from a revolution point of view. You’re never going to get good recognition for doing the safe thing," he adds. "And that’s why this film has got attention because no-one else was doing it.”
The joy of journalism
Ruaridh hopes selling How to Start a Revolution to a TV network will give him the financial freedom to continue to find interesting subjects and report on them, without having to find commissioning editors able to make the “imagination leap” from pitch to the finished project.
He says: “The next one I really want to do is a film about genes. It’s an investigation into the way that humans have tried to modify their genetic inheritance through history and it’s all gone horribly wrong.”
Despite his success as a producer and director, Ruaridh says he doesn’t feel tied to the format of long documentaries “It’s all about finding the best way to tell a story”.
After the London 7/7 bombings, Ruaridh and two friends wrote and directed a play Yesterday Was a Weird Day. “We went around interviewing all of the people who were involved; from Tube drivers, the people who were injured, emergency response, to journalists and intelligence. We recorded their testimony and then we got actors to recreate their voices on stage. That was great because you’ve got an actor right in front of you acting out the emotion of someone who has been in that situation.”
He adds: “I’d also quite like to write a book on the genes investigation because it’s something people really don’t know about and I think that’s always the most important thing for me. Finding something that people haven’t known about is the real joy of journalism - seeing that surprise."
Ruaridh Arrow is an alumni volunteer who speaks at King's Careers events. To find out more about volunteering, visit the Give Back section.