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'Metalheads unite': The Heavy Metal Film Festival is here

Operating on a bare-bones budget, the first annual Heavy Metal Film Festival is expected to draw ardent fans from the L.A. metal scene.

March 31, 2011|By Jason Kehe, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" captured fans before a 1986 Judas Priest concert. Courtesy of Jeff Krulik and John Heyn.] *** [A scene from the documentary film called "Heavy Metal Parking Lot." Shot in a parking lot outside a Judas Priest concert in Largo, Maryland , 1986 by filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn.
"Heavy Metal Parking Lot" captured fans before a 1986 Judas… (Unknown Photographer,…)

When Samuel Douek puts on his well-known Hola Mexico Film Festival, he enjoys the support of sponsors like Corona and the Mexican consulate, which pump up his overall budget to about $150,000. Heavy metal music, however, is a tougher sell. Starting Thursday at the Downtown Independent Cinema, he's putting on the first-ever Heavy Metal Film Festival for a few hundred bucks.

He could use more cash, but for now it's a labor of love. His Mexican film fest shows in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and he figures the worldwide popularity of metal music will help his new festival, which runs through Sunday, find similar acceptance. "But there is no heavy metal consulate or heavy metal government," Douek says, chuckling.

Since he first advertised the Heavy Metal Film Festival — he spent most of his budget on fliers — the response has been unambiguously positive, he says.

"This is the coolest idea ever," one fan sent him in an email. "This is genius," wrote another.

The metal scene in Los Angeles has historically been among the nation's most passionate, dating to the time of radio stations like KNAC and Pirate Radio, both of which live only on the Web now. There have always been movies about heavy metal too — "A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica" is one of Douek's childhood favorites — but the recent explosion in documentary filmmaking, along with the increased presence of heavy metal films in festivals worldwide, convinced Douek that it was time to give this cinema subgenre a festival of its own.

"I have a deep belief that the metal community will support it," Douek says. "Metalheads unite."

Although he couldn't get corporate sponsors, Douek was able to attract a number of music supporters, like Nuclear Blast, an independent heavy metal record label. Loana Valencia, a publicist for Nuclear Blast, is helping Douek market the event. On Tuesday, she finished printing the festival passes — which go for $33 per day or a symbolic $66.60 for all four days — on her personal printer.

"This is as do-it-yourself as you can get," Valencia says.

But she thinks Douek is on to something.

"This is going to take off," she says. "This is a whole other outlet, bringing heavy metal music to a much wider audience."

Douek, who grew up in Mexico, was reared on metal. His father gave him a copy of "Appetite for Destruction," Guns N' Roses' breakthrough album, when he was 6. A kid with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Douek realized that rock music "was just the soundtrack of my life."

"Everyone said one day I'd grow out of it, but I grew more and more into it," he says.

By 12, he was regularly attending concerts with his dad.

He also watched a lot of movies, a passion that he finds he shares with other metalheads. He remembers "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" particularly fondly, a movie about Judas Priest fans tailgating in a parking lot before a concert.

Twenty years later, Douek is trying to promote the music and movies he loves — and he's still growing more and more into metal every day, barely able to contain his excitement about some of the films at his festival. Selections include making-ofs, concert films and full-length features like Toronto International Film Festival selection "Marimbas from Hell," which opens the festival Thursday. Douek can't wait for "Travelers at the Edge of Time: Blind Guardian," a German film made exclusively for the festival, and another about the history of metal in Finland, where metal is mainstream ("People might not know this," Douek says). Some of the screenings will feature discussions with the crew and cast, and Douek has also planned a few performances, including a heavy metal ballet act.

Ian McFarland, a member of the hardcore band Blood for Blood, will be showing his backstage documentary "Meshuggah," about the Swedish metal band's 2009 North American tour. He thinks the value of films like his is in part to "break down stereotypes of the metalhead — this stupid, beer-drinking, headbanging moron," he says. "There are a lot of smart people who happen to like metal. Film festivals like this show that metalheads are people too."

McFarland, like Douek, is interested to see if a festival like this will catch on, if his fellow metalheads will respond to these movies as they respond to their music. He thinks the potential is there.

"Bad decisions make good stories," McFarland says. "In metal, there are plenty of bad decisions that have been made, so there are plenty of stories to be told."

Heavy Metal Film Festival

Where: Downtown Independent Cinema, 251 S. Main St., L.A.

When: Thurs.-Sun., see website for times

Price: $9 for individual movies; $33 daypass; $99 festival pass ($66.60 to first 30 people)

Info: (213) 617-1033;

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