Western heavy metal stormed the Middle East in the late '80s and early '90s, gaining popularity with the same crowds it appealed to in the United States and Europe, a subculture of young, perverse devotees. The Egyptian government responded to the genre's popularity by carrying out a string of infamous mass arrests in 1997, temporarily jailing musicians and fans under accusations of Satanism. Shortly after, they outlawed metal concerts entirely.
When the documentary Before the Spring After the Fall began filming in 2008, metal was making resurgence in Cairo, but the government still wasn't embracing the alternative culture. In the opening scene of the film, Shady Nour, the baby-faced lead singer of the band Your Prince Harming, thanks the audience for coming and confirms that the band just wants to follow the rules. Then, he leans off stage to tell his brother Noor, "Mom says to be careful, there are secret police everywhere."
Before the Spring, After the Fall approaches the very core of rock music as rebellion. The documentary follows a young generation of musicians who grew up under the oppressive regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, struggling to play the heavy music they love in a climate of accusation and oppression.
Nour and his band have it rough, but times are even tougher for Massive Scar Era, Egypt's only all female metal band. Headed by shaggy haired front-woman Sherine Amr, the group consistently struggles against the judgment of the political climate and their inferior status as women in the religiously conservative Egypt.
As the film takes shape, the focus shifts from the struggles of musicianship to political uprising as the climate of the 2011 Arab Spring affects the young artists everyday lives. Political turmoil spirals out of control and the musicians find themselves in the middle of an unexpected and violent revolution. The film is tense and relevant, tracing the impassioned protests and ultimate resignation of Hosni Mubarak.
While the focus of BTSATF is sometimes fragmented, it's because the filmmakers stumbled on a conflict they didn't anticipate in the sudden upheaval of government that took place in 2011. Watching the young passionate musicians fight for their right to do what they love is empowering. Ultimately, it is also disappointing, as the "revolution" has not brought artistic freedom—after the election of a member of the ultra-conservative Muslim Brotherhood to fill Mubarak's leadership role—but rather more stagnancy. But, perhaps that is just a setup for a sequel: The resolution of the film confirms that Amr and Nour are still waiting for their spring.
dir. Jed Rothstein
Showing at BendFilm. The complete schedule for the Oct. 10-13 film festival is available online at bendfilm.org