Film Essays & Articles >> SCREEMERS
SCREAMERS: Louder is definitely better
by Bedros Afeyan
MG2 Productions in association with Isis productions UK, BBC Television and the Raffy Manoukain Charity, present the movie "Screamers" featuring the rock band System of a Down (SOAD), conceived by Carla Garapedian and Peter Mcalevey, produced by them and Nick de Grunwald and Tim Swain, and directed by Carla Garapedian. This movie is woven around the System of a Down international rock concert tour in 2005, SOULS, 90th Commemoration of a forgotten genocide. We see excerpts from their Los Angeles, London, Donnington and Amsterdam concerts. System of a Down is composed of Serj Tankian (lead singer), John Dolmayan (drums), Daron Malakian (guitar), and Shavo Odadjian (bass). They are a heavy metal rock band with many other rock styles infusing and enriching their music. They are a bold, loud, no nonsense, politically and socially engaged band with extremely loyal followers around the world since they wail against violence, war, multinationals, discrimination, injustice and above all, for the purposes of this review, genocide, from Rwanda, Sudan all the way back to the first genocide of the 20th century, that perpetrated by the Turks of the Ottoman empire against the Armenians.
Wikipedia will tell you that Daron wrote a poem called Victims of a Down and Shavo thought System sounds better than Victim and their odd band name was born. The band was formed in 1995 and is on hiatus as of 2006. The 10 year initial run they had produced five very successful albums with the titles: System of a Down (1998), Toxicity (2001), Steal This Album (2002), Mesmerize (May, 2005) and Hypnotize (Nov. 2005). Of these, the second, forth and fifth have been #1 albums in the US, the fourth has been #1 in the UK, the second and forth have been #1 in Canada and the forth and fifth in Australia and Ireland too. To find out much more about their sound, lyrics and cultural space, visit http://www.systemofadown.com/.
So what is "Screamers" about? It is an in your face documentary about a passionate cry for help the band members make with their fans, with our national representatives (Dennis Hastert in particular, the then (now ousted) Speaker of the House) and everyone in between. It is a powerful documentary that shows rock stars making a case for reason and rationality, for peace, for justice and the stopping of lies and obfuscations in the hands of Turkey and its allies in the US and British political systems. All this is shown via congressional testimony footage, Turkish protests in Istanbul and elsewhere against conferences of historians to debate the genocide, the hatred against their most recent nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, who allowed himself to state that maybe the genocide did happen, and other such travesties in modern Turkey. Screamers shows us young Armenian protesters in the US and Britain with banners and civilized manners publicly demanding the recognition and restitution owed us by the republic in Turkey which otherwise wants to canonize and marvel at the achievements of their ancestors such as Talaat Pasha, a butcher and executor of the deportations and killings which caused a million Armenians to perish in the summer of 1915 alone.
Screamers is very effective and very well edited. It is a professional and high class yet raw and passionate look at a quest and a vision with survivors depicting in complete detail what happened to their loved ones in the hands of the Turks and Kurds who used the cover of the first world war to annihilate the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman empire and evacuate their ancestral lands which are still occupied by Turkey until today. We see American and British politicians who are aware of these injustices and know they have to be redressed and their counterparts who couldn't care less about our fate and prefer to appease modern day Turkey with economic and security concerns trumping their sense of justice and human rights. These tend to be conservatives in our or Britain's parliaments while France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Canada and so many other (17 in all) nation states have recognized the historical facts that make our plight so traumatic and harrowing. Meanwhile, genocides continue in Africa even today... Screamers exposes these facts and disseminates the truth about the multitude of attitudes and currents running through the veins of survivors and their testimonials, of politicians, thinkers and journalists the world over from Peter Jennings to Samantha Powers, Baroness Cox to Dennis Hastert and his conservative cronies such as Dan Burton of Indiana doubting the veracity of the Armenian genocide...
See this movie as soon as you can. It is engaging and unpretentious. It wears its emotions on its sleeves and it speaks directly with the young rebellious tone that will reach the world's youth most directly. It is alternative rock meets historical horrors. It is an excellent mixture of video, film and still photographs from our 90 year old past with System of a Down concert footage from across the world animating and igniting the energy level of this movie.
US noninvolvement in genocides where we do not have a clear monetary interest is brought out by Samantha Powers, the famous author of "The Problem from Hell," a book which is a must read by all those interested in the problem of genocide. She explains how our state department just turns its back and denies all responsibility to stop these horrors when they occur and covers that up afterwards such as it did so spectacularly in Rwanda and is doing now in the Sudan. An Armenian Cause activist declares: "I can tell you today, more people find out about the Armenian Genocide from a System of a Down than every other method combined!" If this is true, there is a lot to think about on the part of the rest of us who are not wielding rock guitars, giant amps and woven beards or Satan-esque goatees while screaming obscenities and expletives only to turn on a dime and sing sheepishly, melodically and revert to heavy metal uproars of plucked wisdom and controlled phonic chaos. Samantha speaks about upstandsers and not bystanders, those who speak out during genocide as it is being perpetrated, and in our case, we have the US Ambassador to Ottoman Turkey Henry Morgenthau whose grandson speaks on his behalf in Screamers. He depicts his grandfather's efforts to try and stop the bloodshed back in 1915, to no avail alas, except to chronicle it for posterity.
And then we see SOAD again, with hints of the famous patriotic song Sardarabad being played on the guitar and a few of the words being sung by Serj, Zanker ghoghanchen, may the bells toll and reverberate, the call to arms in 1918 when yet another onslaught by the Turks, this time at the outskirts of Yerevan, Eastern Armenia's capital, where resistance repelled the troupes and a nation hobbled along, three quarters destroyed, nine tenths of its territory lost, soon to enter under the yoke of communism, and diasporas rejuvenating themselves giving us Beirut born heros such as Serj and Daron, conscious, conscientious, resolved and determined to honor the memory of their 96 year old ancestors who do tell us in Armenian what actually happened, how, by whom, and what effect it had on their long lives since 1915, since Efkere, Gessaria (Kayseri), since Giligia (Cilicia), the Western Armenian heartland, lost to Turks and Kurds and not yet returned to its rightful owners, the Armenians. Mothers and fathers who have sons and daughters who have now given birth to rock musicians who rock the world with their truth beyond the songs about drugs and dropping acid and chop suey and love in its afternoons and tumultuous evenings. They sing: Aisbess dzakets, Arekagets, Sardarabadi mard@ medz." That is how it was born, was illuminated and made brilliant under the sun, our big battle at Sardarabad... with the lone guitar melody gliding upon our collective memory unscathed in the middle of a heavy metal barnstorm.
And then we see Serj wheeling his maternal grandfather around in a hospital so that he may begin speaking on camera. His grandfather's 96 year old older brother takes over the narrative followed by his sister. They tell the whole story. From birth to deportations, with period sepia photographs making the experience unforgettable. The music is evocative, the narrative, compelling, the photographs, devastating. Serj also recounts what he has been told, interspersed with the memories of the other band member's relatives. We see why they care and how seriously they care about their family honor and memory which is the shred of truth left in a world of make believe around them. Serj lists all the genocides of the twentieth century and compels us to think of them as one and to eradicate them once and for all. Yet we have today's bombs in Iraq, our wars de jour, own crusade of futility and why we love our bombs dropped globally. Liberating bombs and democratic violence for all. Then, back to Ottoman Turkey we go. or a British classroom studying it, and then some British kids reading survivor testimonies. The pictures again are authentic period sepia photographs. The descriptions are so graphic I prefer not recounting the horrors of stuck skulls in bushes and trees being kicked into the river after the body of their mother is already discarded... Serj's great uncle tells this story, then his sister, then a British youth reading the rest of the rapes, the murders, the whippings and then back to his uncle again... the music, new age, sombre, slaughter being described until Henry Morgenthau the III described his grandfather's stories with Talaat and the uselessness of his protests.
Churchill is evoked by a modern British conservative member of the European parliament, Charles Tannock, saying it was the murder of a nation, other members of the house of lords such as Baroness Cox concur and describe further how wrong it is for British governments to cow tow to Turkey as opposed to stay steadfastly on the side of the truth and human justice. "We've got a government that goes groveling to the Turks, but why, why?" asks Lord Shannon. And then he explains, Turkey persuaded the West in 1918 while they should have been getting punished for what they did that it was needed against the Bolshi's, then against communism, more precisely so as to mount nuclear missiles and rockets near the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union" (ie in historical Armenia and next to present day Armenia!). He goes on to say, and now why do we still bother with them? Ah, well it is a nice (cheap) place for a holiday! At which point we cut to a spectacularly well prepared long ad sequence extolling the virtues and value of a holiday in Turkey from a DVD prepared by their ministry of tourism which is good enough to make you want to puke... Especially as the gaff perpetrated by Time Magazine Europe is exposed where Turkey negotiated sending out this DVD, called I Dream of Turkey, to the European subscribers one meant to be the innocent sounding tourism brochure but which was found out to contain a secret Extra: the lame arguments of genocide denial which the Turkish government tries to use in its propaganda war to escape the truth of its own past. By now the absurdity has mounted to a feverish if sickening pitch but the documentary Screamers is winking at you, its audience, at its own excellence as well. We are shown these Turkish arguments by professional mouth pieces of their government machine... What a sight it is! They even have Armenians living in Turkey saying that their grandfathers used to say (in Armenian) how great the Turks were and their disposition was towards the Armenians... If they were killed, it goes on, come and show us the graves...! We'll dig there too! And back to the glorious Turkish culture basking pieces of the DVD we go again, now with the Aya Sophia Mosque, now with their women, their horsemen, and their welcoming rose petals. It is just too absurd to describe. Then, Time Magazine, apologizes for the gaff and tried distancing itself from it, as depicted in Screamers. Lord Avebury continues the narrative of British opinions on the right side of this issue, the history, Britain's role, and we enter another SOAD London concert with great pleasure.
Talk of whether or not one can trust in his self righteous suicide, irony, Armenian genocide pictures, heavy metal, the mix is intoxicating and the question whether angels deserve to die, sung by young female fans accompanying the impressive tenor lyrical voice of Serj Tankian. Then some of the last words Jesus spoke to his dad, as made popular by Jesus Christ Superstar, about being forsaken are heard... Angels, suicide, death, why and why? While those same fans are in an ecstatic stupor crunched in like sardines, their hair wet and sticky with hunger for the escape from the ordinary, for the search for meaning beyond consumerism, beyond mindless sex, drugs and rock and roll which here, at least, packs a punch! And a slow lullaby of self righteous suicide, angels, why, cry, die, and middle eastern music takes us to Donnington for the next concert. But before the concert, we hear Serj describe the events that preceded the genocide to a British fan and activist. He is leafing through some blown up photographs of orphans and thinks he has spotted his maternal grandfather in a Greek or Cypriot orphanage. At this point, with a lone dudug (haunting Armenian wind instrument made ever so popular in the new age scene by Djivan Kasparian) we return to the great uncle depicting that portion of how he and his brother came to the US while their middle brother, David, perished. The outdoor concert takes over again and MURDER! is being screamed, it is the same song, BYOB, in your eyes, you have forsaken me, in your heart, in your mind, trust in my self righteous suicide... And you see how it all fits together. The bassist talks of how his ancestors were annihilated as they travel by tour bus at night to their next gig. The next morning, same bus, the European country side, rain and Amsterdam. Ann Frank and the holocaust are shown in graphic detail with a Dutch historian voice over only to lead us to video from Rwanda. And we see vdeo and voice over depictions of of the machete and stone hurling genocide... And we see the killing fields with the lone dudug in the background uniting the eras, the continents, the inhumanity, quickly followed by Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Peter Golbraith Junior, an x- US Senate staffer, describing how it happens while we see the bones, the mounds, the evidence of tied hands and feet around skulls and bones of silence...
The Amsterdam concert is at night, the same song is shown, evoking the cries of of a generation screaming at what it sees and feels in its bones. Samantha Powers depicts the saga from Armenia to Rwanda, the similarities and consequences. The story moves on. There is no peace in the graveyard, she says. This brings us to the genocide denial machine via nationalist Turkish rhetoric interspersed with Tanner Ackam's (a Turkish historian) account of what actually happened in 1915 and how much raw historical evidence exists (telegrams, missives, reports, etc.) to substantiate the truth Turkey is so desperately denying. We then see historical pictures of our churches and their state in present day Turkey. The desecration, the destruction, the erasing of all traces of our existence on our ancestral homeland is all there.... This is followed by fanatical Turks boycotting his movies and burning books and copies of Arnold Schwartzeneggar's picture because he signed into law, California recognizing the Armenian genocide.
The "genocide jig" (a term introduced by Samantha Powers in the film) is put on display next. You see American politicians dancing around the G word, ducking and obfuscating when they are not willing to get involved. This footage is precious since it involves Kosovo, Darfour, Rwanda and the whole shameful mess of the last decade or so. It also involves papa Bush, Clinton and the second coming of Bush and their state department spokesmen and white house press secretaries. This is followed by footage of Adolf's lovely logic justifying the removal of the vermin, the inferior race, from the pure Germans. Armenian genocide victims are shown again interspersed with the 2005 attempt to have our house of representatives vote for the house international affairs Armenian genocide resolutions which had passed the committee and eventually got blocked by that same representative Hastert whom Serj confronts and from whom he gets a quick brush off. Hastert blocked the resolution from coming to the house floor for a vote under extreme Turkish pressure, this movie alleges. We will have to try and try again until we succeed. Significant domestic pressure is required and we have to apply it as best we can. SOAD has done its part to awaken the young, to scream their hearts out and also through this powerful movie. Now, it is our turn to do what we can to finally leave Turkey all alone with no allies toeing its lie of denialist crime, compounding its historical crimes by this revisionist slithery state of existence which will not be a very good means of becoming a member of Europe or any other civilized group of nations.
Darfur and their atrocities are shown next for a live ongoing genocide we are doing nothing about. SOAD is pointing out that declaring genocides and then saying there is nothing to be done, as we have done in Sudan, is an outrage and one we have to fix now. This despite the fact that it is outed how the Sudanese government has fooled the cowboys in charge here that thy will help the US government fight Al Qaida terrorism. With that excuse, the United States is allowing Darfur's tragedy to continue. And who remembers the Armenian genocide? We return to Serj's grandfather and great uncle and great aunt. The dudug comes back and Serj gives us the coda. Recognition, reparations, reform, Efkere, Cilicia, a home, land, rivers, the soil and the way it pulls you, while the music changes again to SOAD's call for action as a personal video camera walks around his family plot back to Efkere, the stone walls, crumbling structures and pictures of surviving orphans superposed as Screamers walk us through time and into the desolation that is our homeless homeland awaiting our return and the words: "What is unacceptable is to do nothing."
See this movie and see what you should do next to become a screamer yourself.
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The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
© Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, 2007. All rights reserved.
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The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
© Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, 2012. All rights reserved.

No reproduction of this text is permitted. Performance rights must be secured for any performance.