Last month at the 2014 Inferno Music Conference (which runs concurrently to the much louder Inferno Metal Festival), I was lucky enough to squeeze into a short presentation led by filmmaker Christian Falch. He was there to introduce his latest project, and from the looks of things, it’ll be a doozy. ‘Blackhearts’ follows three black metal fans from very different backgrounds, and as Falch says, “the basic idea for the film is to understand more about the strong impact that black metal music has on different people all around the world.”
During the course of the still-in-production film, he engages with a Colombian Satanist, a Greek neo-Nazi, and an Iranian black metal musician named Sina (look for an interview with him later this week!). Take a look at a teaser for the film here, and check out an in-depth interview with Falch below. ‘Blackhearts’ is tentatively slated for a September 2015 release, so mark those calendars.
Hey Christian, please tell me a little about the idea behind Blackhearts. When did you begin filming, and when do you anticipate that you will be finished?
- In short, the basic idea for the film is to understand more about the strong impact that black metal music have on different people all around the world. We all know that this genre is popular in places far away from Norway and Scandinavia, but we don´t know much about how it affects people that live in different cultures. What is it like to be a black metal fan in a strictly Islamic country or in a Latin American village where 99% of the population is Catholic? I find this really interesting because black metal promotes values that differs so much from everything else. In Norway, no one cares if you have a pentagram tattooed on your forehead, but what does these symbols represent in a religious society without any common knowledge about black metal? In addition to this, we also want to find out what makes this music so attractive and why so many people make life changing decisions based on their passion for black metal.
We began filming approximately two years ago and since then we have spent many weeks with our characters, getting to know them and following up their stories in countries like Colombia, Iran, Greece, Turkey and of course in Norway. We have still a lot of work to do before the film is finished though. This work mostly involves applying for additional funding, doing pre-sales to TV-stations, hooking up with distributors, festivals and sales agents. This is time consuming work, but things are looking really good at the moment. According to our progress plan, the film will premiere around September 2015. There is no guarantees in this business of making documentary movies, but the interest has been overwhelming so far. I just hope it results in us actually getting the finances in place in order to finish the film and ending up with a high quality documentary movie with worldwide distribution.
What are you aiming to say with this movie?
At this stage of the process, the film is very complex with many different layers. Because of this it is pretty hard for me to point out one main message, but for sure we want people to reflect upon the impact of music and art in general, with black metal as one example. Where do one draw the line between arts and real life? What is an illusion and what is real? How does different societies interpret a work of art based on the current religious, political and cultural circumstances? The answer to these questions will be up to the individual viewer to come up with, but for sure we have our own opinions on it. In my opinion, black metal is art and should be interpreted as that. Nothing more.
Do you think that black metal is still dangerous?
Not at all. The music is really not dangerous at all, it is just an art form just like every other genre out there. It only becomes dangerous if people interpret it as more than it really is. For example in Iran where people see it as everything else than just music. Or in Catholic/Christian countries where many people automatically link it to Satanism and stuff like that. Of course, the lyrics and topics that is typical for black metal are in theory far from harmless, but as we know, most fans and artists don´t actually practice as they preach - thankfully! Therefore I consider black metal to be just an amazingly fascinating music genre with top notch musicians and stage performances that cannot be found elsewhere. Black metal only becomes dangerous when people forget the fact that it is all about music and stage performances.
How did you find your subjects? Please tell us a little about the three men you chose. And, why no women?
We were fortunate enough to receive funding from the Norwegian Film Institute for doing research for this film. Because of this we could spend about one year looking for the right characters for the film before we started shooting. Finding the right protagonists is really the essence of making a good documentary movie so we put a lot of efforts into this. By the help of my friends and network all around the world (and of course Google), we came across dozens of interesting people from all corners of the world. It was a hard process to narrow it down to three people. First of all they were chosen for their very different backgrounds and stories. With these characters we will show many of the different aspects of the global impact of Norwegian black metal. We started off with doing email interviews, Skype and all that kind of things just to get a feeling of who these people were and what we could expect to catch on camera. Then we had to meet them in person, do some filming and get to know each other to ensure the fact that they were comfortable with having us around and share their life and stories with us. Based on this research material, we decided to go on and include them as main characters in BLACKHEARTS.
In Iran, we came across this amazing guy called Sina. Let me tell you, he has become my new hero. Getting to know him has given me a valuable perspective on life in general. The thing is that black metal is really not popular with the Iranian government. He is running a big risk in doing what he is doing with his music and on top of that he has been doing it for years. His passion for black metal is stronger than his fear of the authorities. In the film, we follow Sina in his everyday life in Tehran and get to meet his family and friends. One day his life gets turned upside down because of an invitation to play at the Inferno Festival in Oslo. Sina grasps this life long dream and goes to Norway. His backing band consists of great musicians like Tjalve ( 1349 / Den Saakaldte / Pantheon I ), Destruchtor ( Myrkskog / Morbid Angel ) and Vyl ( Keep of Kalessin / Gorgoroth ). The big question is - what happens after his concert in Norway and how will the Iranian government react?
As many metal bands and fans know, Latin America is the place to go to find passionate metal heads. Before starting this project I have been to Colombia many times and attended shows with for example Gorgoroth in Bogotá. The impression the audience had on me was something I wanted to include in the film, so looking for a character in Colombia was an obvious decision back then and let me tell you - I have not regretted it for one second. Through my contacts I came across Hector, the lead singer and vocalist of the band Luciferian. He was more than willing to share everything with us; no limits when it comes to interrupting his private life with our cameras or sharing his pretty peculiar thoughts with us. The thing is that Hector is a Satanist. Not the kind that just sings about it you know, but a Satanist that attends rituals, black masses and goes to Satanic priests for spiritual guidance. His 14 year old son is also following the path of his father and this makes him a very interesting character because Colombia is as we know a very religious country. Let me tell you, being a hardcore Satanist there is not always easy! As with Sina, Hector and the rest of the guys also end up playing the concert of a lifetime in Norway, but getting here was no easy deal at all because of the visa restrictions. What Hector did to make sure he got the visa is just astonishing….looking forward to see that scene in the finished film!
The third character is Giorgios Germenis, commonly known as Kaiadas from the Greek black metal band Naer Mataron. What makes him unique is not only his extremely detailed knowledge about Norwegian black metal and his artistic skills, but the fact that he is also a member of the Greek parliament as a representative for the party Golden Dawn. As far as I know, he is the only MP in the world that is also a black metal musician - a very interesting combination. We want to find out if there is any connection between his love for black metal and the politics he is promoting. This is a difficult question to answer because as with many devoted black metal fans, the passion for the music becomes a way of life and in the end it is not easy to know what was the inspiration in the first place. But as Kaiadas told us, many Naer Mataron fans voted for Golden Dawn because of him. I must say that I find Kaiadas very interesting because of several different things, not only because he is a politician. He offers the BLACKHEARTS audience a new insight into the impact and passion of black metal.
So, this was a short introduction to our three main protagonists, but several other people will appear in the film as well, this includes Norwegian black metal musicians and people that plays a part of the foreign characters lives. From an early stage we did our best for finding female characters too, but unfortunately we did not succeed with this even though I know for sure that there is thousands of women out there that could easily fit in this setting. On the other hand, through our main protagonists, we will meet their girlfriends, mothers and so on as well and hopefully this will help maintain a certain balance.
You mentioned that you were worried that the inclusion of Germenis would cause problems for the film, either in the press or with the actual release. What is your plan here? Has anyone raised objections so far?
The main worry for me, as a producer, is that some broadcasters or institutions that help out with documentary funding would find this participation a bit too problematic or controversial because of their wish to be politically correct. When it comes to the film itself, I am convinced that this will be an important, exciting and unique way to potray part of the black metal universe in all its shapes and sizes. As a documentary maker, our mission is not to please everyone out there, but to give the audience new perspectives and a glimpse into the life and reality of people that are not necessarily equal to themselves. The director, Fredrik Horn Akselsen and I did a documentary called "The Exorcist in the 21st Century" a couple of years ago. We followed an exorcist from the Vatican around, and for sure there is a lot of people that does not share his opinions on things, but our audience still found it really fascinating. So it is truly possible to make films with characters that is not politically correct. Our plan with Kaiadas is to get to know him as a person, as a black metal artist and as a politician and to find out how all of these things add up in his life. We have no political agenda with including him in this film. Even if he was a MP for the Communist party it would still make him interesting for us. We have not encountered any specific objections to his appearance yet, on the other hand people find it fascinating and also kind of brave of us to include him. I don´t think it is brave at all. We are just documentary makers wanting to tell interesting stories about interesting people. That´s basically it. Time will tell if this will give us any trouble or not, but I really hope and think that this won´t happen.
What was it like immersing yourself within this politically far right group? What kinds of reasons did they give for their involvement with their chosen political scene? The Golden Dawn is pretty universally loathed by anyone who, you know, isn't down with fascism.
To tell you the truth, it was not dramatic at all. It´s really not like going into the wolf’s lair or something. On the other hand, the people we have met in Greece have been really nice, helpful and friendly. My main drive to continue as a documentary maker is to get to know new people, to go to different places and to get new experiences. I´m really happy for the fact that I have gotten the chance to learn more about this Greek scene and some of the people in it. You know, when I´m down there we speak mostly about music and I don´t have any interest in emerging myself in political debates with them, just as I did not debate theology with the Vatican exorcist. I´m just curious about their view, their reality and their perspective on things. I listen and I ask questions. Rarely do I start a political debate on intention. Behind all the dramatic headlines in the newspaper and the official party politics we find real people with surprisingly normal lives. It’s hard for me to go in detail when it comes to the reasons for their political involvement since this is very individual. But I feel pretty certain that when it comes to the link with black metal, the awareness of the national history and mythology, national pride and roots plays an important part. This does not mean that black metal in general is political in any way, but some people can choose to see it like that if they want. Again, I’m no expert on this, but I think most people that are involved with Golden Dawn got engaged because of the way the government dealt with the hard hitting financial crisis in Greece. Many people in Greece felt that the only way to save the country was with pretty extreme and different measures. Our character Kaiadas was one of them.
Were you ever uncomfortable or afraid during the filming of these scenes? It seems as though some of the situations you encountered were very intense.
During the shooting of this film so far we have encountered many intense moments and situations, but I have never been afraid. I rarely do. The thing is that we are so focused on doing our job that we don’t get the chance to think too much about the surroundings. When we are out shooting for BLACKHEARTS, I feel as if I am among friends. We also talk things through with the team and the protagonists before doing anything so things are pretty planned out. In Colombia we often hire armed security guards to watch our backs too. As I said, I love to find myself in weird places and situations and it rarely gets uncomfortable for my part. Actually, I am actively looking for intense situations - that´s how to make a good film!
What other roadblocks have you faced during the filming of the documentary?
Too many to mention! I don’t even know where to start….the first obvious roadblock was to get high quality footage in Iran without ending up in jail. Everyone told me it was impossible, but we were fortunate enough to find a solution to it. Then comes all the language barriers we encountered, but that worked out fine in the end too. The most obvious obstacle, and that goes for every documentary maker out there, is to find the money and partners that enables you to make a high quality film. It is difficult to find the right balance between your ambitions and your budget. It is a never-ending struggle. A very personal challenge for me has been the situation with Sina as well. He has become a close friend of mine and I feel obligated to do whatever is in my power to keep him safe. I think about this night and day.
The project is partly funded by the Norwegian arts council, or the government - something like that, right? How did you go about presenting your case for receiving funding?
At this point of production we have received funding from 6 different institutions in Norway, including The Norwegian Film Institute, The Freedom of Expression Foundation, Midtnorsk Filmsenter and several others. We have produced a few documentaries before so they know we spend our money wisely and deliver a good film in the end. As for every film, we have to go through a pretty time consuming process of applying and competing with every other project out there. This means a lot of paper work, long discussions on how to present the film, budgets, plans and all of that. We mainly presented this film as a unique insight to interesting characters from more or less exotic places that can offer the viewer strong, personal stories that develops as we make the film. I explained about the message we want to bring to the table with this film and combined with the stories of the characters, this is what made the investors trust us with significant funding so far. We are now about to start working on the international funding for the film in order to obtain what we need to finish the documentary and get it out there for people to see.
How did meeting these three individuals affect the way you view the music and the scene you're used to as a Norwegian black metal fan? Have your views on the genre changed?
Back in 2006, I was on tour with Keep of Kalessin and Satyricon for five weeks, making another film. This trip gave me insight to all the different people you can find in the international black metal scene. On top of this comes the fact that I have been traveling a lot too, always careful to catch a gig and meet other black metal fans. Because of this background, I have not been truly surprised of what I have learned through the experience of making BLACKHEARTS, but one can say that I have gotten a better understanding of how passionate people are and how much black metal actually means to a lot of people. I have also learned how much the Norwegian scene has changed during the last 15 - 20 years, it has gone through an amazing change. This of course is the scene I have dwelled in for as long as I have been a fan of this music so for me it is truly fascinating to see how the music is interpreted in other countries. My view on black metal have not changed at all. It is still just fucking great music performed by some of the best musicians out there. Nothing more.
Why do you think black metal in particular resonates so deeply with such disparate groups of of people?
First of all I would like to think it is because of the music, it is really like nothing else out there. But of course the mythology that took shape in the early 90´s plays an important part too. For many fans, including me, all these criminal acts, church burnings and so on was the reason for wanting to listen to the music in the first place. When it comes to Norwegian black metal in particular, I guess some people find this pretty exotic as well, just because of the remoteness of this little, weird Scandinavian county. Then comes all the different factors like the feeling of rebellion, anti-religion, hatred and maybe even politics. Combined with the music itself, this creates a full package that some people can relate very strongly to. Many black metal fans see it as more than just music, it is a way of life - and they interpret it according to the society they find themselves in. This is exactly what BLACKHEARTS is trying to understand and explain.
What were a few of the most compelling moments you captured on film for Blackhearts?
Too many to mention! BLACKHEARTS will be full of interesting, crazy and funny moments on top of everything else. But I have to say that a personal favorite experience of mine was the full scale Satanic ritual in Colombia. Keywords are flames ( lots of them ), Satanic priests, naked women, pentagrams, human bones - you name it! The ritual went on for several hours and it was really epic. Another very interesting moment was when Sina from Iran met Nocturno Culto in Norway. You have to wait for the film to get the details, but it was interesting to listen to what those two guys had to say to each other.
Any parting words?
I would like to point out, before every black metal internet troll out there starts commenting on it - this documentary is really nothing like all the other black metal films out there. First of all, we don´t deal with the past and the events of the early 90´s at all. Secondly, this is a documentary movie where the fans is not the main target. In fact, we are producing this film for a wide, international audience. Our ambition is to screen the film on the main European broadcasters, international festivals and such before releasing for streaming and downloading. So obviously, our main challenge is to come up with a film that deals with black metal in all its shapes and sizes and on top of it turn it into an intriguing experience for anyone that happens to see it in the end. As a personal little treat, I could also mention that one of my personal musical heroes, Snorre Ruch, have composed some special stuff for the film score to spice everything up a bit!