The continued refusal to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide by Turkey—as well as the U.S. and U.K.—constitutes an unjust denial of history that Carla Garapedian’s documentary Screamers seeks to rectify. Her main asset in this endeavor is metal band System of a Down, whose members descend from Armenian survivors of the massacre, and whose activism and politically-conscious music has been a force in raising awareness about the tragedy. The guys from System prove articulate and impassioned about the issue, and in singer Serj Tankian’s discussions about the horrific ordeal suffered by his grandfather (who, now an invalid, recounts some of his own story in home movies), the film appears poised to deliver a wrenchingly personal account of the ethnic cleansing that claimed 1.5 million Armenians. Yet Garapedian, in an apparent concession to the marketplace’s demands that the film fully utilize its rock-star headliners, packs her documentary full of System performance footage, which, though successfully illustrating the band’s social awareness, feels shoehorned into this otherwise straightforward examination of the genocide and the efforts to refute its existence. The System concert interludes are symptomatic of a more general lack of focus, as Screamers wants to not only stand as a record of Ottoman Turkey’s crimes against the Armenians, but about how that cataclysmic event gave birth to the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Darfur, all of which are cursorily addressed with stories from victims that, while heartbreaking, don’t compensate for the absence of any meaningful discussion of the various genocides’ causes and the reasons governments are slow to stop them. Such perfunctory treatment is complemented by a distinct lack of directorial subtlety, with Garapedian resorting to ominous, but empty, juxtapositions (such as one of System’s song “Cigaro” with images of roaring jet fighters), as well as text that lands on the screen with menacing whooshing noises. Eventually more troubling, though, is that the film becomes, in part, another Michael Moore-ish conspiracy theory endeavor in which damning, wholly unsubstantiated accusations are bandied about as fact, and unrewarding gotcha tactics—via surprise visits to conservative bad guys (in this case, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert)—take precedence over the primary objective of raising awareness so as to prevent further atrocities.
- Maya Releasing
- 89 min
- Carla Garapedian
- Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, Shayo Odadjian, John Dolmayan
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