SAM DUNN

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TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE

This interview with Sam Dunn was done face to face by Andres Castro on September 19th, 2005.

The Toronto Film Festival just ended and brought many surprises, but for me the most surprising fact was reading they would screen a documentary on Metal called Metal: A Headbangerís Journey. I started reading a lot of reviews on it and then I learned that it was made by two Canadians, one of them a devoted metalhead and anthropologist so I decided it was a good idea to go and see it. The documentary explores Metal as a cultural manifestation and the way it fits within a whole societal environment putting on to the screen points of view on different topics related to Metal as a culture and its impact on society. Fans, musicians, people in the music business, and others give their perceptions on this journey to understanding the beast, its implications, the behaviors and different ways of thought that had fed it to become one of the most misunderstood, stigmatized and even despised and feared music genres in history. So there you have it, 98 minutes of film with characters such as Bruce Dickinson, Tony Iommi, DIO, Slipknot, Rob Zombie, Dee Snider, Lamb Of God, Slayer, Enslaved, Gorgoroth, and many others helping with their opinions and experiences to understand and explore metal, its roots, symbolism, genealogy and relation with death, violence and Satanism as well as its value as a cathartic for youthís creativity, anger and positions on topics that are sensitive to the current world situation. I think the documentary serves its purpose on showing and help people understand (even metalheads) the complex world of metal and thatís why I decided to interview Sam Dunn, co- Director and writer of Metal: A Headbangerís Journey, to talk about it, enjoy!!!

How did the whole idea for the documentary come out?
Basically it was about 5 and a half years ago, at that time I was actually finishing my degree on Anthropology, it was a Masters degree, and I started to become interested in looking at the history of Heavy Metal music, Iíve been a metal fan since I was like really young, Iíve played in a metal band since I was like 11 or 12 years old, so it has always been a part of me but I wanted to, I was interested in writing a book about metal, because no one actually at that time had done like a comprehensive history of Heavy Metal, I shared the idea with my friend Scott who is my fellow director, producer and writer on the documentary, and he said may be it would make a good documentary and we did some research and discovered that no one had ever done a real in depth documentary on Heavy Metal music, anything that had been done on film about metal was basically Spinal Tap, The Decline of Western Civilization part 2, Wayneís World, like a few behind the music episodes but no real documentary about metal, it was like five years ago, took us a lot of time to raise the financing to make the film because we are both first time directors, no one really knew who we were, so it took a lot of time to convince people that this was a good project, that we were capable of doing it!!!!

How long did the shooting take?
We started shooting in June 2004, however because of the nature of the documentary we didnít necessarily shoot for a solid period of time, we basically followed bands on tours, we went out and did different pieces here and there, we shot between about June and February of this year, we did it in little shots, we went to Norway, Germany and England, came back to Canada, we went out to NY and LA and came back to Canada, went back to Norway and England and came back to Canada, we went back to La and back to Canada, back to LA and back to Canada (Laughing), so it was an unusual shooting schedule but its because we had to do everything around schedules of very busy musicians.

You said before your original intention was to do something about the history if Heavy Metal but after having seen the documentary I could see clearly that it goes beyond that, so what was the main purpose for the documentary?
Initially our idea was to do a conventional history of the genre, this it where it started this where it is today, but as we began to do more research and started to do some writing we felt that we wanted to make a film that would appeal to metal fans but also interest people who are outside of this music who might be curious about it, might have a son who listen to it or whatever, and we thought that one way to do that was to turn it into a personal journey, so thatís when the film became about my journey to understand the impact of Heavy Metal music, we never really initially intended to have that Fan Ė Anthropologist duality that is in the film, it was never the initial idea, but as we talked more about what we wanted to do, we discovered that what we wanted to do was like an anthropology of Heavy Metal, a study of Heavy Metal because it would be more interesting to us and hoped it would be more interesting to other people too.

You said before your original intention was to do something about the history if Heavy Metal but after having seen the documentary I could see clearly that it goes beyond that, so what was the main purpose for the documentary?
Initially our idea was to do a conventional history of the genre, this it where it started this where it is today, but as we began to do more research and started to do some writing we felt that we wanted to make a film that would appeal to metal fans but also interest people who are outside of this music who might be curious about it, might have a son who listen to it or whatever, and we thought that one way to do that was to turn it into a personal journey, so thatís when the film became about my journey to understand the impact of Heavy Metal music, we never really initially intended to have that Fan Ė Anthropologist duality that is in the film, it was never the initial idea, but as we talked more about what we wanted to do, we discovered that what we wanted to do was like an anthropology of Heavy Metal, a study of Heavy Metal because it would be more interesting to us and hoped it would be more interesting to other people too.

And what did you find in your research, I mean has your perception of metal changed in any way after having done the documentary?
To me as a passionate fan of this music, it confirmed for me things that I kind already knew, it doesnít mean that I knew it all before it stated because otherwise I wouldnít have to do it, but its like all those things that I knew deep down about this music and how much it means to people, about how it is really and important art form in our world today, that it is something that has always been stereotyped or condemned by people who do not understand it who want to push it down, those are things that I kinda knew inside and came out on the screen, thatís one part but I think I also found interesting things about metal music and how it fits in our history as humans in a sense of why metal deals with issues like religion, death and violence, and why all those images and ideas are an important part of Heavy Metal, I think its because people are interested or intrigued about these things, these aspects of life, and it is perfectly natural, I think metal just deal with a long history of art forms that help us understand what death means, what violence means or why is it that people kill each other over religious reasons, so thatís what I found quite fascinating, so its like a stepping back and taking a big look at it that I ever had, because when I am just a fan and I am listening to Morbid Angel or Obituary or Pestilence or Autopsy or whatever, its intense, brutal its raw and thatís why I love it but stepping outside of that and looking at it from the outside was very interesting for me.

What was the reaction from the people you wanted to interview when you approached them with the idea for the documentary?
Initially it was very hard to convince people to do it, because no one knew who we were, people thought we were crazy because it was such a huge topic but after a while once we started to get a few artists to agree to participate it was like a snowball effect I guess, as we started to travel and the documentary was being made people got more interested in being a part of it, once you get Bruce Dickinson, Alice Cooper and Lemi, its like fuck I want to be a part of this, so thatís kind the way it went. What I found as an interviewer is that it was difficult initially but once I explained to them what we were doing and questions started to be asked, many of the artists were very interested in what we were doing, that it wasnít just another interview about howís the new album coming along, or howís the tour coming along, those kind of things, its more about like tell me about what all these religious imagery means to you and your music, because it was an effort to get something deeper that other interviews.

Is there anybody that you wanted to be in the film and couldnít?
To me as a fan there are so many bands that I love that couldnít get to interview that I would have love to get from Morbid Angel to the guy in At The Gates but we were restricted in terms of time and budget. I think Rob Halford would be my number one choice.

Any particular reason why?
For a couple reasons, I tried but it was not successful mainly because of the timing of the documentary, they were putting on their new album so it was just bad timing, but because he is such a spokesperson and such an important person for metal I would have loved to have him in the film, and also because we dealt with sexuality in the film, he is also gay, and I thought that I would have been an interesting perspective to have his voice in the film, it would have added a lot of richness to the film, Rob if you are out there, next time I hope (Laughs).

What happened with Ozzy?
Basically what happened was that we had hoped to do some of the interviews last summer with many of the bands that were on the Ozzfest Tour, and it was never our intention to film the Ozzfest or to be a part of the Ozzfest, but it was more our intention to interview many of the bands in the tour, following them around, interviewing them in the tour buses or whatever, unfortunately Sharon Osbourne got a hold of one of the letters that we had sent out and had assumed that we were trying to shoot Ozzfest without her permission, that wasnít really our intention at all, so we got an email form Clear Channel Entertainment, we got an email directly from Sharon Osbourne herself where she says that she felt offended that we hadnít approached her to do the filming and that we were trying to get around her someway, that was not our intention at all, that unfortunately made the relationship between us and Sharon pretty sour (laughs), however the most important thing that I want to mention is that we got Tony Iommi and he is really the main person we wanted anyways because he created this music.

I sensed a lot of humor in the documentary specially in a way that you put certain behaviors that we metalheads have and once you realize about them its so funny, specially from the perspective of a metalhead which is like you are making fun of yourself.
I know itís a good point, and one important thing to mention is that this was a collaborative film, it took a collaboration to take down the beast of Heavy Metal, trying to capture it in a way that it would interest a lot of people, Scott my fellow producer and director and writer was key in bringing humor in to the film because he felt that everyone likes humor and is kinda of a way to bring everyone together I guess, my position initially was to lay the ground for the film and have an anthropological approach to the film, and after several screenings people we feeling it needed some more humor to try to bring it to life, so once we had that foundation we started to inject humor into the film, of course I was very sensitive to it because our main goal was to create a documentary that was in depth and interesting, that was true, I hope, to the spirit of metal, that represents metal, that was the most important thing. We tested humor at different screenings to see how people responded and they responded very well, a good laugh can bring everyone together and we are happy with the outcome.

Taking about responses, how was been the response to the film? How have been the reactions specially form the Norwegian scene, from Mayhem and Gorgoroth? Have they seen the film?
They havenít seen the film and I want to see how they respond. I think we are actually gonna be going to Norway the next month to screen the film, we are going to the Bergen festival and possibly we are going to the Oslo festival as well. It is really important to me that we bring it back to the people who were in the film and get their response to it, I think that is part of the responsibility of being a documentary film maker so I wanna bring the film back to them to see how they respond, I hope they like it. We wanted to be very careful not to sensationalize the Norwegian scene and kind of be sensationalistic about, we did not want to approach it that way, however that was a funny interview that I did with Mayhem at Wacken (laughing), it was hilarious, they are really nice guys.

Are they aware of the fact that the interview is in the film?
No they arenít, so Iím looking forward to see what happens in Norway. I hope they will enjoy it.

You know the cultural differences and ways metal is perceived in different scenes is a good point to explore and I think the films lacks of that, what do you think?
I actually have always been really fascinated with the differences between European and North American scenes, because they are very different, and I am very interested in how historically why they are different and thatís something that I hoped to touch in the documentary, but the best we could with the time and budget we had was to go to the Wacken Festivals and really show how vibrant the scene is in Europe and Germany, itís huge, they have a very long tradition of festivals in Europe, not only in metal but in all styles of music, if you are a kid in Europe you can spend all summer in Europe traveling from one festival to another, and as a kid coming from Canada it was the fucking most amazing thing I could possibly ever imagine because thereís nothing like that here. I think European fans in general are much more loyal to the music, I think that you find in Europe bands that are more steady for longer in terms of their popularity whereas in North America it tends to come and go, itís a lot more volatile and vulnerable to the whims of the mainstream and the industry, thatís my perception. I have to say the festival circuit and the magazine culture in Europe which is older, I think, is much more well established over there and that has a lot to do with it as well

And the metal industry is bigger there as well.
A lot of the labels have offices in almost every country. My sense is that metal is more part of a normal life in Europe than in North America, I think in North America if you are a metalhead you are much more an outsider than you are in Europe, even though in Europe is like a strong religious tradition and this kinda of thing makes kids rebel and find metal as a way to rebel against those traditions and sense of morality in their society. I think that in Europe its more acceptable to be a metalhead than it is in North America, may be thatís because we are way more fucking uptight in here than over there.

You were telling me before that film has had a very good response and that you have already closed some distribution deals for many countries; letís talk about that
This is a Canadian production and we have a Canadian distributor called Seville Pictures which is based in Montreal, they are also acting as our international sales agent; since the Festival we have sold the documentary to 12 countries, we sold it to the United States, the UK, all Scandinavia, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg, and Australia and Japan. We have distribution through Warner Brothers in the US which is a very major huge company to be part of, we are exited about that, and I think it reaffirms that this film was kinda needed to be made and hope that metal fans around the world will feel that it is a very honest and true representation of the music and I hope it represents the passion that exists within this music and really how metal is a vibrant culture and is a vibrant music. I think what it says is that metal is vibrant in different parts of the world so I hope that fans there can identify with it somehow.

Are there plans for a DVD already?
Thereís no specific dates set yet but the theatrical release of the film will be probably on February and the DVD will be released shortly after that, probably one month or two after that, so we are looking at spring or summer next year when it will actually be released and we will definitely have DVD distribution in those countries that I just mentioned and hopefully more, we want Germany and Brazil.

You said before that because of time limitations there is a lot of material that is not in the film, are there any chances to see any of that stuff in the DVD?
We shot over 120 hours worth of footage so obviously 90 minutes is a very small fraction of that, we are probably going to do a number of things with the documentary, one is we will probably feature some extended interviews with some of the artists that appear on the film and possibly some interview material with people that do not appear in the movie at all. One person that I want to appear in the DVD is Barney of Napalm Death as well as Steve Lips from Anvil who is a local Toronto guy and let people know that Anvil was actually an influence to Metallica who became the biggest metal band of all time. We also want to include an interactive map I guess of the metal family tree to allow people to go into the different sub genres of metal, click on it, find out more information about it, maybe there will be like a narration linked to it, bands websites and all that kind of information. May be, we will include an extended version of the Norwegian part of the documentary because originally that section was 45 minutes and now its like 10. We have interviews with Emperor and Enslaved, 2 interviews with Mayhem, Gorgoroth, a university professor from Bergen and other people.

Did you try to interview Varg?
We tried but Varg is in a maximum security prison, so if you are not a friend or a family memberÖ the only way you can get to talk to him is through his lawyer, so I spoke several times to his lawyer, he was very accommodating, he forwarded letters to Varg in prison but for whatever reason Varg wasnít interested in talking with me but we will try again and we will see.

Whatís next?
I think first of all we are going to develop the more extended version of the Black Metal piece of the film and include it either as a DVD extra or as a completely separate project, we are gonna see and may be go back and get some more material Iím not sure, we are also interested in doing a multi part travel series that focuses on the globalization of metal and that takes us to countries that didnít get included in our film and that are either developing countries or have very vibrant metal scenes like Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, Finland, Bosnia also countries like Cuba, Malaysia, Japan obviously and the goal with that will be really to focus on what this music means to people in such diverse cultural and political areas of the world and to talk with fans, musicians, even local politicians, local authorities, teachers, priestsÖ in this countries to talk to them and find out what are the commonalities and what are the differences, what are the things that unify metal fans around the world and what are those things that are unique to that particular part of the world. We are still developing ideas and sort of looking at what countries would be best to touch and how are we gonna shoot it, what the focus will be, it will be a different project than Metal: A Headbangerís Journey, it will still probably follow me as a Fan and Anthropologist on the road, but it will be less about the big names in the music and more about the grassroots of metal in different countries, because a lot of people donít know that it is technically illegal to posses metal in some countries.

Any disappointments?
Mmm, Vince Neil, I wonít say anything more (laughs)

Any regrets?
Not so much regrets but there is a lot of material that I would have loved to cover, I would have loved to explore race and racism in metal, I think that is a very interesting topic, I would have loved to have traveled to more locations as well and have interviewed more bands from different locations. I really liked the Norway part in our film because is partly about the place as it is about the music, is really the only part in the film we do that, we go to NY we go to LA but its not really about the place, about the culture. I would have loved to go Florida and talk about why is it that Death Metal came out of this particular place, I would have loved to go to Sweden, Gothenburg, and talk about that scene, even beyond that I would have loved to go to Brazil, to South America.

I got a very weird feeling watching ďPiggyĒ Díamour in the film after his passing away
I grew up listening to Voivod, Rrroooaaarrrr was like of my favorite albums when I first started listening to music, I had all the early albums, they had this great raw primitive sound and they are Canadian too so that was cool, it is very odd, because my interview with him was, I am not sure, either the last or one of the last on camera interviews that he did, so for me it is very special that we have him on he film, we had a long interview with him and Michel and it was just coincidence that we happened to pick a clip form Piggy for the film, at that point we didnít know he was going to pass away so when I heard he passed away I was incredibly sad and to had had him in the filmÖ I am pleased his voice was in our film because Voivod has been a very influential band in the underground. More people know Voivod in Europe than Canada, when we went to Wacken festival and told people we were from Canada people would go: Voivod. Sacrifice, Razor, Anvil and all these bands are better known outside of Canada than here so surely it was very special to have Piggy in the film and I am glad he is there because he deserves to be etched in time as one of the greatest metal guitarist.

Is there anything you wanna add?
Go check Metal: A headbangerís Journey when it comes to your local theater or hits the stores in DVD, I hope that metal fans feel that it is a film that honestly represents the music.

For more information on the documentary go to: www.metalhistory.com.