Heavy metal… two words that will most probably make you yell. Either of joy because you are a metal fan, or of horror because you don’t understand how people can call this music!
So please if you’re part of this second category, keep reading, because this story is really great. And I’ll admit it, for a long time I was like you too. Then thanks to my boyfriend I started really listening to it, and even though I would not consider myself a hardcore fan, you could easily see me singing and dancing to some hard rock or heavy metal tunes. But enough about me.
The fact of the matter is heavy metal is the kind of music that don’t leave people indifferent, and more often than not, not in a good way. As a metal fan from the age of 12, Sam Dunn obviously disliked that fact but he couldn’t do much about it. Or so he thought.
Diving deep into heavy metal
So let’s forward a few years. Sam Dunn went to university and discovered anthropology, realised its value to understand people, cultures and the world around him. And while studying at York University in Toronto, he did a thesis on Guatemalan refugees.
At the same time he discovered the works of musicologist Robert Walser and sociologist Deena Weinstein who had each written serious books about heavy metal music. This inspired him to apply his anthropology background to the music he revered since he was a kid. He first thought about writing a book, but his friend Scot McFadyen, who worked in the film and music industry, convinced him to make a documentary.
As you can imagine, this was not an easy venture. It took them 5 years to complete it. Sam spent the 3 years after graduating working in his field while raising money for the film. “When we walked into meetings and told people we wanted to make a smart film about heavy metal, we got laughed out of the room” he confided to YorkU, York’s university magazine. He even had to borrow money from his parents to film one last interview.
But they made it! “Metal: a headbanger’s journey” was released in 2005. It follows Sam Dunn on a journey to document the origins, culture and appeal of heavy metal. But it also explores the more controversial parts of metal, including violence, death and satanism. As Sam confided during an interview to PureGrainAudio, the movie “was trying to answer the question “Why does it polarize people? Why do people either hate it or love it?”. I personnally found it fascinating and I was not the only one since the movie won a Gemini Award for Best Writing in a Documentary and was released theatrically and on DVD in over 40 countries.
The success of this first movie led to thousands of mails from metal fans all around the world thanking him for it. This decided Sam and Scot (now partners in Banger Films production company) to make another documentary “Global metal” (released in 2008) that digs deeper on the global phenomenon that is Heavy metal, and how this music (that started in North America and Europe) has spread and impacted many different cultures around the world in Asia, South America and Middle East.
Today Banger Films is a reference on everything related to heavy metal. They have made documentaries on Alice Cooper (Super Duper Alice Cooper), Iron Maiden (Iron Maiden, flight 666), Rush (RUSH: Beyond the lighted stage), several live concert filming and have created a 11 episodes television series on metal for VH1 (Metal evolution). In 2015 they plan to launch Banger TV, an equivalent of Netflix for metal fans.
But they’ve also gone beyond heavy metal and have launched a kid’s programming division, B Minors. And according to their website upcoming projects include a two-part documentary on the history of hip-hop and Satan, a feature documentary about the Devil in modern times.
Led by passion and curiosity
So Sam Dunn managed to create himself a career and life that allows him to combine his interests and dig deeper into his passion: heavy metal.
Dunn’s anthropology background helped give a general framework and shape for the documentaries. And as he explained in The MetalSucks podcast, a background in anthropology “teaches you to spend time to get to know someone, to get a sense of the kind of culture they come from, to have that understanding of that broader context. And to understand that these are people that have a history, a background that informs what they’ve become. (…) That’s something that informs the process, we want to take people a few steps further back than they would think to do.”
Although he is not your typical anthropologist, he applied his background to give a riveting and in depth approach to documentaries and interviews. Led by his curiosity and need to understand, he explores his passion and gets to meet many of his childhood idols. All the while he keeps playing music on a regular basis. I think this is great. What do you think?
You can check out Banger Films at www.bangerfilms.com