Globe-trotting from South America to the Middle East and even China to document heavy metal’s impact around the world, filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen learned a thing or two about getting in and out of sticky situations with the footage they needed.
Like the time they dragged their camera gear across Tiananmen Square in a golf bag while stern-faced Red Army guards wondered how these two duffers had gotten so far off-course.
“It was a bit unusual, but it seemed to work,” offers Dunn as he and McFadyen chat with me in the west-end loft they use as home base for their filmmaking ventures.
Their latest film, Global Metal, is a pseudo-sequel to 05’s widely lauded pop-academia-meets-fan-doc Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. That film was primarily about the West’s fascination with the genre, and earned them a Gemini Award for best writing in a documentary program.
But Dunn and McFadyen realized that A Headbanger’s Journey was only the beginning of their metal journey.
“We were surprised by the variety of countries we were getting e-mails from [after the film came out], because we thought we had a pretty good grasp of where metal was,” says Dunn. “But once we started digging into it, we came up with a long list of countries to explore, particularly China.”
Adds McFadyen: “At a film festival in Taiwan, the theatre was packed with metal fans, and when I went to a record store they were talking about this band called Tang Dynasty. There are a lot of interesting things about how metal has spread around the world.”
Global Metal took about 15 months to plan, film and edit. The result is as much about metal’s malleability as it is about the widespread effects of globalization. For Dunn, the goal was to prove that the music isn’t nearly as static as we might believe.
“We wanted to challenge the idea that metal is rigid and not porous,” he says. “The perception is that metal is all about Vikings in the north playing power chords and swinging battle axes, and that’s all it can be. But what we found is that metal is transferable. There’s something about the power chord, I guess – if you can get your hands on a combo amp and a guitar, then you can play those power chords, and there’s something universal in that.”
For his part, McFadyen questions whether globalization is always a negative force.
“People always talk about globalization as Western culture obliterating other cultures by going in and just taking over,” he says. “But those cultures haven’t developed metal or rock and roll on their own, so it’s like metal is coming in and actually filling a need. They’re picking up on something from the West and changing it, but it’s not taking away from their culture.”
In their travels, the pair found themselves moving from Israel to Brazil (they had to hire an armed guard for safety) to India, and they even attempted to enter Iran under the pretence that they wanted to ski just outside Tehran. And while Iran wouldn’t issue them visas (they had to meet their contacts in Dubai instead), Dunn believes they found an element in metal that links just about every corner of the world: good old-fashioned rebellion.
“I think it takes a bunch of young people who want something to grasp onto and call their own. That’s part of it. A desire or a thirst for a music that has a rebellious countercultural spirit to it is kind of where it comes from. And what we learned through Global Metal is that that’s something you can find almost everywhere. It’s just that what people are rebelling against is different depending on where they are.”