SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: DEATH METAL ANGOLA

DEATH METAL ANGOLA review for the Sydney Film Festival by Salty Kernel, ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

DEATH METAL ANGOLA is part of the Sydney Film Festival and will be screening on SUN June 9 at 6pm at Event Cinemas George Street, MON June 10 at 430pm and SUN June 16 at 245pm at Event Cinemas George Street – tickets can be purchased HERE. Be sure to check out the entire program for the SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL HERE.

Jeremy Xido’s has created a satisfying documentary using a team from the US & Angola to give us, the viewer, a glimpse of a country, and at first glance, an extreme music scene that has taken root there. This is Jeremy Xido’s big screen debut, a US-Angolan coproduction, that has become an audience favourite at film festivals around the world. The country is Angola and the music in question is Death Metal.

Stepping back for a second it is quite easy to see how this has occurred. Call this a biased perspective, I love metal, I have loved metal ever since I first heard it at the tender age of 5 and have been drawn as I grew into my teenage years to its darker elements. I can understand the aura and obsession it creates. But then again I am a privileged white male living in Australia. I have never experienced oppression, the after effects of colonialism, slavery, nor brutal civil war. These children and teens have, leaving most of them scarred physically and psychologically.

 

Death Metal Angola Movie Poster, film screening at Sydney Film Festival
Death Metal Angola Movie Poster

 

Surprisingly this is an upbeat chronicle of Angolan “Rock” as the kids there call it. During the opening we are greeted with scenes of utter devastation. Angola is a poor country, the countryside riddled with bombed out buildings, destitute lives and a seemingly crumbling infrastructure. Most of the documentary takes place in a devastated city called Huambo, known for most of its time as Nova Lisboa (“New Lisbon”), a former Portugese colony. During the civil war that raged across the country post-independence (between 1975 and 2002) this town was the epicentre for some of the most brutal fighting. The documentary focuses in on a small orphanage called Okutiuka run by an amazing woman, Sonia Ferreira, who along with her boyfriend, Wilker Flores, looks after the lives of orphans, runaways, and children fleeing from the effects of a country still living in the aftermath of the worst of inhumanity. It is in this setting that we learn that teens having witnessed such horrors have found solace in an extreme form of music. Flores, who is passionate about his metal, decides to organise the country’s first rock festival to not only popularise the many bands playing this music but to create awareness for the orphanage and the plight of orphans and children in the country.

 

Death Metal Angola
Death Metal Angola

 

Wilker is a revelation, he is a softly spoken passionate young man, this is until he plugs in his guitar then he channels some otherworldly force and allows his rage to flow, it is quite captivating to watch. The music seems natural in this landscape, it contrasts the burnt out hollowness of the environment and gives emotional counterpoint; we are slowly introduced to other bands and teens playing this music, I have to say all too briefly, more could have been done here; there are plenty of stories to explore. Through all of this Wilkers really is the star. As Ying to his Yang his girlfriend Sonia is a champion of the orphan. She truly is an extraordinary human being, opening up her heart, her toil to the many children under her care. For the first hour of the film we are introduced to many of the children growing up in the orphanage and focus in on the routine of daily life there.

The focus of the film gives way slowly to the organisation of the festival and further exploration of Angola’s death metal culture. We are introduced to bands such as Dor Fantasma, Soul Power, Before Crush and Nothing to Lose. Whilst I can’t say as a music fan that their technical abilities stand up to the premiere exponents of this genre, their passion and commitment more than make up for it. My misgivings give way as we are swept up in the enthusiasm and momentum of the music festival with all the trials and tribulations (payment issues, electrical and venue problems) that follow.

 

Death Metal Angola
Death Metal Angola

 

From a review perspective I think that Xido and Holmes have given us a great primer into the Angolan Death Metal music scene. Unfortunately they have spent too much time at the Orphanage and the stories of the children, there are so many other interesting stories to explore.  So much so that I believe the title of the movie should have been changed, we learn much about the orphanage in Angola and only fleeting glimpses of the bands playing “rock”. The story of the metal bands, the questions of why they have chosen this unlikely style are left unanswered. It’s never really explained, for example, how much of a following these bands have; how they fit in (or otherwise) with Angola’s other music scenes, a little explanation and cultural context would have been welcome.

The final culmination of the festival itself is gratifying to see, so are the ending scenes were we witness the next festival, this time with local TV coverage, and many more fans. It’s good to know that even amongst such contrasting circumstances music is still music and no matter the style  it can be a powerful and uniting social force.

Overall whilst not the best documentary about Africa or metal I found the documentary thoroughly riveting.

3.5 / 5 Pointy Metal Horns 🙂

 

3 and a Half Pops