This week, metal4africa‘s Darkfiend had the privilege of enjoying a telephone conversation with Sam Dunn, less than a month before his arrival in Johannesburg with crew in tow to film a documentary. For the uninitiated, Sam will otherwise be recognized as the face and narrative voice behind the films Metal: A Headbangers Journey (2005) and Global Metal (2008). Banger Films, established by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, has delivered other celebrated projects including Iron Maiden: Flight 666 (2009) and VH1 channel’s multi-episode series Metal Evolution (2011), amidst others. This makes the visit on 17 June, at The Iron Tusk venue in Johannesburg, monumentally significant for not only South African metal, but for metal on the continent as a whole.
We delved in to find out more about what Banger Films (visit their website here) aims to achieve with their documentary films as not only a film company, but as a film company which aims to specialize in the stories of heavy metal from around the world. They have certainly not set themselves an easy task!
“We see ourselves as historians first; but we also have to think like entertainers for it to be economically viable.” ~ Sam Dunn (director/producer/host, Banger Films)
Ten years ago, the fledgling company took the metal world by storm with the delivery of their debut, and what is arguably the first authentic documentary film on the culture which surrounds metal music. Metal: A Headbangers Journey was met with enthusiasm and acclaim in many parts of the world, and as Sam explains:
“Things were different back then. Remember, this was a full decade back, and before documentaries on bands and metal had become as popular as they are now. Maybe we were a little ahead of our time; which was clearly the right time; but we just wanted to find out and share more about what metal meant to people and how it impacted on their lives.” ~ Sam Dunn
The project was an unprecedented success and set the then-young Banger Films on an even greater journey of almost prophetic proportions with their follow-up.
“If Headbangers Journey was the 1-0-1 on heavy metal culture, we had to ask the question: ‘Fine, this is how it is in our country. What about in others?’ We needed to go to other places and ask the people what metal means to them and how it came about to be a part of their lives and culture.” ~ Sam Dunn
Therefore, Sam went on to describe Global Metal not as a direct sequel – since it sought to uncover a different aspect of the greater story – but more of an extension of his original journey.
Naturally, this brought us to the burning question which has been tormenting the tips of thousands of African tongues for the better part of a decade: Why was Africa not included into the original Global Metal documentary?
“I actually do remember that we had also looked at South Africa back then. But to be honest, we had to think of the film from so many perspectives. As an anthropologist and a historian, we also looked more at things where people from those cultures were having a transformative effect on the genre and the development of the genre, or whether metal was a part of the social transformation being experienced in those places. Asia, for example, was a strong focus point at that time. With places like China and Indonesia experiencing massive shifts economically, politically, socially; there were huge swells in the youth populations and they were more economically empowered. With our own available budget, we had to choose what we believed were the most compelling stories of that time.” ~ Sam Dunn
Another challenge faced by Banger Films in preparation for their global adventure was the availability (or lack) of easily accessible resources of reliable information; a problem which our team of slave elves at www.metal4africa.com have long acknowledged and attempted to rectify. Of course, our website only came into existence in the year following the release of Global Metal; which was, in fact, in itself a huge motivating power for this resource to be established in the first place! We asked Sam about what – in his opinion, as one who talks with many metalheads from all over the world – is the perception of African metal from the world outside of the continent:
“There is virtually no perception, actually; like it doesn’t exist. If you tell the average industry person or fans almost anywhere that there are metal musicians and fans in Africa, most laugh in disbelief.” ~ Sam Dunn
This brings into focus what Banger Films and www.metal4africa.com share in common: both have the desire to ask the questions and drive back the fog of doubt; to document and to provide to those who want to know. Sam admits that not everything is always economically rewarding, but that the work done can sometimes be of greater significance and value than what it represents in monetary returns.
“Global Metal was our least successful film, but I believe our most important. This year will be our first time ever in Africa, and in continuing our global journey begun in 2008 we need to ask why is metal here, and how does it work into peoples lives. Now is the time!” ~ Sam Dunn
Of course, www.metal4africa.com also bears the burden of needing to seek out the truths of a matter rather than simply accepting the polished facades. We wanted to hear what other metallers from around the world thought of what very limited visibility which is enjoyed by metal culture that can be regarded as charismatically ‘African’. More specifically, referencing the now-famous photos of Batswana metal fans by South African photographer Frank Marshall which have done the rounds in fairly major publishing circles such as Vice Magazine (see images here) and CNN no less! Oddly enough, Sam described this as more a point of contention than something which is accepted as ‘African metal culture’.
“The images certainly do what they are supposed to do. They hit hard and get attention! But then, whilst they seem to live up to the part of entertainment, they share in an equal part of creating confusion.” ~ Sam Dunn
Sam describes how, with many people, they see what is portrayed in the images as perhaps more of a staged fashion stunt; a means to attract attention, but lacking in authenticity because the images are generally not accompanied by much of a story outlining their context in the many places where they appear.
“A lot of metal fans are like: ‘Are we smelling a fake? These images are not so clear in the context of the music.’ At Banger Films, our objective is not to judge the book by it’s cover; we want to open the book!” ~ Sam Dunn
We at www.metal4africa.com are sad to learn that what we regard as a fairly unique aspect of heavy metal sub-culture, developed in isolation and accepted as authentic by Botswana’s neighbours in South Africa, is lacking in credibility for fans of metal in other parts of the world. However, the awkward conversation brought home to Sam and myself both, I believe, the importance of continued work by entities such as www.metal4africa.com and Banger Films. We at M4A have enjoyed direct contact with the Botswana scene, and we have hosted some of their bands at our festivals where members don their self-designed and often self-crafted leather outfits and outlandish metal attire. We can recognize what is a widespread cultural phenomenon because we have witnessed it firsthand and in context. This is the gift we need to work towards bringing to the rest of the world. Banger Films have yet to indulge in that firsthand encounter, but share the same vision of pulling back the cloak of murky assumptions.
For Banger Films and www.metal4africa.com, however, the next way-point is in Johannesburg next month and not in Gaborone, Maun, or Ghanzi… nor in Harare, Maputo, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Tunis or Cairo… yet! Nonetheless, the encounter will undoubtedly reveal just how much mileage still remains unto us and our respective paths on this global journey.
The Johannesburg visit will include a public event hosted by Witchdoctor Productions at The Iron Tusk in Newtown district (we spoke with them in a previous article). Tickets are being sold via the promoter’s website for R80 and will feature a showcase of South African bands: Agro, Boargazm, Demogoroth Satanum, SacriFist, Terminatryx and The Drift, taking place on Wednesday 17 June.
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