In these days of user-reported media and instant information, “genocide” as a paradigm has slowly crept in to the socially minded masses. Atrocities in Darfur, Rwanda and Bosnia are commonly known, but have you heard of the one in Armenia? This “forgotten” genocide, where over a million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, still goes unbelievably ignored. Despite being an admitted influence for Hitler and the Holocaust, the “murder of a nation” is still not recognized by the United States or Britain. (Mainly because we need Turkey as an ally in the Middle East.)
Documentary filmmaker Carla Garapedian, who like the members of System is of Armenian descent, presents this complex political issue in SCREAMERS. Obviously by the above paragraph, she does a great job educating the viewer on what took place, the current situation, and other modern genocide in general. The documentary stirs up emotions and rallies the viewer to it, and peppering the film with System’s songs and personal stories is a great way to connect to a younger, less familiar audience. The band members themselves are charismatic and well-spoken, which makes it easy to listen and follow them. (Seeing Serj talk to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who pretends he’s heard of System of a Down, makes for great footage.)
However, while it’s easy to agree with what SCREAMERS has to say, as a film it’s a mixed bag. Structurally, it seems to wander. The band is the focus for the first half, but only appears intermittently as the film progresses, making things feel a bit lopsided. As a concert film it’s also a minor disappointment, employing a point-and-shoot style that hinders the energy of System’s performance. (I even saw some people sitting down, which is unacceptable.) The biggest problem though is that the movie suffers from a repetitive format, with pretty much everyone interviewed saying the exact same thing. In that light, it’s a very one-sided documentary. I’m not saying I wanted to see anybody defend genocide, but, for example, one Armenian journalist suggests that today most Turkish people aren’t in favor of genocide, just embarrassed to be associated with that portion of their past. Exploring a notion like that, or simply pursuing an alternate viewpoint of any kind, would’ve helped strengthen the film’s argument and let the audience feel like they’re making up their own mind, instead of being told what to think.
Despite its issues, I still think SCREAMERS is worth watching for informative purposes alone, or if you’re just a big fan of System of a Down. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Armenian genocide, also check out Atom Egoyan’s dramatic take in ARARAT.
Commentary by director Carla Garapedian: The filmmaker talks about her influences and shares some insightful stories about making the movie and working with System. Garapedian comes off very passionate, which a documentary filmmaker should be.
Going Backstage: A fan with a connection to the Armenian genocide gets to go backstage and on to the tour bus to speak with the band. It’s a little awkward and doesn’t really add anything to the film
Where Did We Come From?: Drummer John Dolmayan talks to his mom about where in Turkey his ancestors are from, leading the band to try and locate their roots.
Armenian School: A look at the Armenian school the band attended as teens, and the teachers who influenced them. Bonus: You get a look at some funny yearbook pictures of all the guys.
Grandfather’s Village: Garapedian goes to the village where Serj’s grandfather lived, giving a firsthand look at the physical devastation.
Bonus Song: Question: More live footage.
Hrant Dink: In Memoriam: The Armenian journalist, who was interviewed in the film, was assassinated by a 17 year old Turkish nationalist in 2007 and is remembered here.
Spiral In To Flames: A glass artist makes a wearable (and purchasable) piece of art to commemorate the genocide.
Press Conference: A discussion with the filmmaker and the band at the AFI Fest, mostly reiterating the points made in the film
Get Connected: Garapedian plugs the film’s website (screamersmovie.com) and how you can get involved.
There’s also an Educational Version of the film that bleeps out some of the band’s more graphic lyrics, as well as a Trailer.
Extra Tidbit: Other world famous Armenians include Andre Agassi, my favorite cymbal maker Avedis Zildjian, and our very own JoBlo.