RocKabul

February 18, 2019

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The sheer crazy-brave lunacy of the affable bandmates as they (quite literally) risk all to pursue their dreams to play heavy metal in such an oppressive and restrictive cultural landscape is so infectious, so immediate, engaging and moving…
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RocKabul

Jarrod Walker
Year: 2018
Rating: 15+
Director: Travis Beard
Cast:

District Unknown

Released: March 6, 2019
Running Time: 77 minutes
Worth: $18.00

FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

The sheer crazy-brave lunacy of the affable bandmates as they (quite literally) risk all to pursue their dreams to play heavy metal in such an oppressive and restrictive cultural landscape is so infectious, so immediate, engaging and moving…

The sheer crazy-brave lunacy of the affable bandmates as they (quite literally) risk all to pursue their dreams to play heavy metal in such an oppressive and restrictive cultural landscape is so infectious, so immediate, engaging and moving…

There’s a surreal moment in the opening moments of Australian Photojournalist Travis Beard’s new documentary RocKabul, where a masked Taliban judge named Hagmal is interviewed on camera. Beard asks him if he has ‘heard anything about Rock music?’ Hagmal replies: ‘If you listen to this ridiculous music, flames will come out of your ears on Judgement Day. It is permitted to kill people who choose this path’. Such insanity is par for the course for the average Afghan, living with this medieval lunacy on a daily basis though it bears much more significance for the documentary’s subjects, the four members of Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band: District Unknown.

Forming in 2009, the band rehearsed in any number of dark, graffiti covered-spaces in Kabul, honing their (then non-existent) guitar and drum skills. The band members: brothers Pedram and Qasem and cousins Lemar and Qais, ooze unbridled passion for heavy metal music and due in part to his own experiences of being in a band, Travis Beard begins to mentor the group and offers his modest home as a practice space; though they’re soon forced to find somewhere else to jam, as irate neighbours begin to complain about their rehearsal racket.

The band members struggle against their own families (guitarist Qais buys a guitar with the fees allotted for his computer-classes, having to hide it from his music-hating father) as well as struggling against themselves (when Travis organises a gig at a party for ex-patriots in Kabul’s District 3 in 2010,  Qais and Qasem both spend a majority of their set playing their instruments while facing the wall, overwhelmed by the attention.

Beard himself plays in a band with US soldiers and utilises connections with US military and an array of charities, to organise gigs and grow the band’s opportunities.

It’s not long after that, Lemar travels to Turkey to start a new life with his new wife. He’s done with the hard scrabble life in Afghanistan, at one point stating: ‘This is not my country any more. It’s a battlefield for drugs, for mafia, and for money.’

After Lemar’s departure, new lead singer Yousef fronts the band at ‘Sound Central’, a music festival that Beard organises in cahoots with US government liaisons. It’s Afghanistan’s first music festival in 35 years. Security concerns mean the festival is heavily patrolled by local police yet Beard still worries about rogue Taliban attacks.

Despite all the dangers, the day goes off without a hitch. Undaunted, Beard and the band push onwards, though whether you’d term it ‘fearless’ or ‘crazy’ depends on your point-of-view.

They decide to take the band on the road and play a gig in Northern Afghanistan, in Mazar-e-Sharif. This results in a rather uncomfortable confrontation with local authorities, a band member being detained, and the remaining members being forced to leave him there, all despite having gotten permission from local government.

The sheer crazy-brave lunacy of the affable bandmates as they (quite literally) risk all to pursue their dreams to play heavy metal in such an oppressive and restrictive cultural landscape is so infectious, so immediate, engaging and moving, it renders Travis Beard’s mighty ode to the power of human expression something of a testament to the cathartic rage of heavy metal and demands that you defiantly raise your devil horns to the heavens in a salute to the sheer balls it took – to risk everything just to accomplish something that we take for granted, every single day.

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