When I last spoke to filmmaker Monzer Darwish, he'd been settled in a small town outside Amsterdam for about a year, and was making inroads into the local community. Before that, he and his wife had undertaken a grueling journey from their home in Hama, a small city on the banks of the Orontes River that lies about 130 miles from Damascus, towards whatever safe harbor they could find. After making their way to Turkey, they took a rubber boat to Greece—a perilous trip that took them and their fellow refugees over eight hours—and from there, marshaled their wits and remaining resources to get from Athens to Amsterdam. Along the way, Darwish documented his experiences with the Canon camera, the only possession he'd been able to bring with him from Hama.
That footage is part of a larger body of work that's taken him over four years to complete, but is now finally available to the public thanks to painstaking work; a Swiss crowdfunding campaign raised enough funds to secure editing equipment and get him over the final hurdle in finalizing Syrian Metal Is War, a documentary he'd been working on off and on since before he was forced out of his homeland. I first spoke to Darwish back in 2014, before he'd ever even entertained the idea of leaving Syria; a lot has happened since then, but his dedication and passion for the project has never dimmed, even when everything around him went dark. Snippets and trailers have surfaced periodically, but now, finally, the entire film is finished, and has been uploaded to YouTube for public consumption.
Darwish describes Syrian Metal Is War as "a mosaic anthology of the different realities and personal experiences of metalheads in a war-torn Syria, the consequences they brought about, and the outpour of hope from destruction and chaos among peers who have only music and war in common."
"This film is intended to shed light and preserve the memories of metal artists and fans in war-torn Syria. It was filmed between mid-2013 and late 2014," Darwish writes in the film's YouTube description. "The film is in no means extensive; it was filmed with a mobile phone and DSLR. Production, traveling, filming, and editing were minimal and utilized DIY methods. It was a personal endeavor and hence naturally limited to my own resources. The footage and project traveled with me across continents, starting in Syria and following through to Algeria, Turkey, Greece, and the Netherlands. I carried it with me while applying for asylum, and it kept me going despite being entirely depleted of both will and resources to continue."
The end result is heartbreaking, compelling, and an utterly essential piece of global metal history. Watch it here, and if you can, consider donating.
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; she's on Twitter. #DefendAfrin