Varas-Diaz, Nelson-Acts Of Resistance (DVD Review)

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Reviewed: May 2021
Released: 2021, Black Chango Films
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: JP

Dr. Nelson Varas-Diaz is widely recognized as the world’s foremost expert on Latin American Metal and he has been busy since we last checked in. This month I’m reviewing two things that have his fingerprints all over them and they are connected in spirit, a book and a movie. I’m reviewing a new collection of essays that’s he edited called HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA-PERSPECTIVES FROM THE DISTORTED SOUTH and a movie called ACTS OF RESISTANCE-HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA. Please feel to enjoy both of them.

ACTS OF RESISTANCE can be (perhaps unfortunately) truncated to AOR but I assure you, this film has nothing to do with keyboard driven, melodic Hard rock!  ACTS is a short documentary that runs about 68 minutes.   It is filmed in black and white and is sub-titled.  It comes in a standard DVD case and in a very nice bonus features two CD’s containing 24 tracks from Metal bands from across the region.  We get to sample some of the bigger names bands like Masacre (Columbia) and Dantesco (Puerto Rico) and some lesser known acts as well.  It is a superb sampler.

ACTS is broken into three main sections, case studies if you will. Each one is a snapshot how local Metal band uses music to inform, educate, empower and perhaps most importantly resist.  Each section is about 20 minutes long are we are treated to features on the Internal Circle organization in Guatemala, Masacre in Columbia, and Curare in Ecuador.

The first section looks at how a group of Metalheads activism includes raising money and supplies (notebooks, pencils) for impoverished rural schools, which lack even the most basic infrastructure like water and electricity.   Masacre of considerably higher stature have made a long-career protesting the narco-drug wars and political corruption in Columbia.  Lastly Curare spreads awareness spearheads protests against the giant mining and oil companies who strip mine and pollute Ecuadorian watertables in search of gold. Each section is filled with pop-up facts, interviews, live footage, archival footage and even some animation.  It was well-edited, informative, ran smoothly and never lagged.

What I enjoyed was that as a documentarian, Dr. Varas-Diaz followed one of the prime rules of documentary filmmaking, and that is to maintain a sense of neutrality. It is clear there is sympathy based on the material presented and the real issues being confronted, but ACTS is certainly not political pandering, posturing or sensationalism.  It presents real issues and struggles of people and how Metal is connected to it all.

I only have one very minor complaint. The film is sub-titled, but that is not the problem. The issue for me was that the subtitles are white. When you have white subtitles on a white background, they are virtually impossible to read at times.  I found myself stopping on several occasions and actually getting up and squinting at the TV to try to read the words!   Coloured sub-titles are annoying and so are the white text on black bars method, but other of those would have been preferable.  The other option would have been a dubbed version. Maybe that does exist but I could not find it on the menu, but I’ll admit I’m low-tech with that kind of thing.

What is perhaps most interesting is that Metal in Western Europe, North America, Australia, Japan…let’s just say the ‘first world’, is ultimately just recreation and entertainment. There can be political messages and lyrics and causes and calls for action but by and large, much of Metal is not protest music, it is mostly politically benign. Look to folk and punk for real protest music in North America.

In this film, Dr. Varas-Diaz demonstrates that often in the ‘Second World’ or developing world (terms which are loaded with colonial connotations, but I’ll use them for now) Metal has often been intrinsically linked with protest. Real protest, not just venting about whichever politician or mega-corporation the band doesn’t like at the moment.   In fact, all several Metal bands in the film, at one point or another all independently said the same thing, (paraphrased) ‘musical protest without action is futile’.   Thanks to Varas-Diaz these very real acts of resistance are well documented, and they are just a few of the many stories to be told.  ACTS OF RESISTANCE as a film is educational and enjoyable and avoids being condescending or preachy and that is a hard combination to beat. Recommended!

As a last note:  ACTS is part of a loose/informal trilogy including  THE DISTORTED ISLAND (2015)  and  THE METAL ISLAND (2017) both of which I have reviewed here on this site.   Feel free to check out those films as well.